Mr. Speaker, with respect to Bill C-54, first of all I would like to acknowledge the critical role that Chief Brian Standingready and the White Bear First Nation have played and continue to play in the self-government of White Bear in particular and the first nations in general.
White Bear First Nation, the Blood Tribe and the Siksika First Nation were all part of a pilot project with respect to the co-management of oil and gas on their reserve land as early as 1994. I am proud to say that White Bear is within my constituency. They were the forerunners in the establishment and passage of an act to provide for real property taxation powers which involved a series of different structural organizations and changes that they put together.
The driving force behind that piece of legislation, as in this one, was the economic development of reserves and the improvement of the quality of life. It provided the ability to raise capital and generate revenue. It was an initial step in self-government, in being in charge of one's destiny and being responsible for one's own economic development.
At that time, I said that it was a good step but that there was a much larger journey that must be taken for the first nations to truly arrive at self-government. As Bruce Standingready of the White Bear First Nation put it, “You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time”. Chief Brian Standingready of the White Bear First Nation put it quite correctly when he stated, “If you don't have the jurisdiction, you don't have the ability to make decisions”. With respect to this legislation, he indicated, “This new enabling legislation is recognizing our inherent rights to make our own laws in regard to managing and controlling our oil and gas revenue derived from these sources”.
The bottom line is that not only should first nations have the legislative means to address issues facing first nations on the reserves, but they should also have the financial means to do so. The White Bear First Nation is willing and eager to take charge of its own destiny and to participate in the development and use of its natural resources to better the life of its people
On the reserve there are many basic issues that need to be addressed: housing, infrastructure, water, sewer and electricity. It is important, however, that a good foundation be laid by the legislation to ensure the future success of first nations initiatives.
I support this legislation, as does my party. There are some important features and principles in place that will help in success. They relate to the transfer of moneys held on behalf of first nations and the transfer of the management and regulation of oil and gas exploration and a host of activities related to it.
Let me speak of some of the important features. There is an oil and gas code that provides for accountability of the council to first nations for the management and regulation of exploration and exploitation and the establishment of a procedure for disclosing and addressing conflicts of interest of members of council.
The legislation provides for a financial code, specifying the mode of holding oil and gas moneys, either by deposit in a financial institution or payment to a trust of which the first nation is settlor and sole beneficiary. It prescribes the conditions governing subsequent changes from one mode to another.
The legislation also provides for the manner of expending moneys. It provides for accountability. It addresses procedures for disclosing, as I said, and for addressing conflicts of interests. It also requires that books of account be maintained and annual financial statements be prepared in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. I think these are all good and proper safeguards.
I am somewhat disappointed that the proposed legislation fails to specifically and in advance set out some generic, boilerplate, basic prerequisites that one would expect to find in a trust agreement, not only in terms of the fiduciary duty of the trustees but the specific objects of the trust and the method of spending approval.
However, the legislation does provide for a vote where a majority of those present, not less than 25%, would approve any of the procedures or codes outlined. That in itself provides some safeguards.
Having said that, I see great potential for the first nations, White Bear in particular, in the transfer of moneys and oil and gas rights by giving them an opportunity to chart their own destiny. It seems to me that education, skills training in jobs in various sectors, and management of various forms of business will be a way of ensuring economic prosperity and an acceptable level of quality of life.
There is much to be gained from oil and gas management. As the preamble of the bill states, first nations are able to assume control of their oil and gas industry.
What does that mean in practical terms? It means that first nations can enter into petroleum and natural gas leases, surface leases, easements, rights of way and rights of entry. They can participate in the extraction of oil and gas, in exploration, in production and storage, in distribution and even in processing or refining. There are many associated activities, such as surveying, mapping, test drilling, pipelining and all other related activities that will provide an opportunity for employment.
The White Bear First Nation has experienced some of this in its involvement with Tri Link Resources. It gives it an opportunity to receive a royalty on production and even to participate in oil production. Moneys raised can be placed back into production or used to help the community. It is a great opportunity to create employment, to encourage education and to be trained and employed in the oil industry.
A good example of that was articulated in an article dated May 29, 2000, prepared by Wayne Dunn & Associates, titled, “Experiences and Thoughts on Indigenous Business and Economic Development”. The article, although somewhat dated, provides a little bit of history that the White Bear First Nation has experienced. The article states:
Since White Bear began working with Tri Link, a number of First Nation members have been trained and employed in the oil industry. Tri Link hired two university graduates from White Bear to work in their Calgary office as a petroleum land administration assistant. A summer student was hired to work out of their Kipling office to gain environmental and production experience.
Two White Bear members work out of [White Bear's] office and two members work as Petroleum Land Administrators with the White Bear Pilot Project. These individuals all attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for training sponsored by the White Bear First Nation and received certificates as Petroleum Land Administrators.
Many White Bear First Nation members have gained training and experience in the oil industry thanks to WBOG. So far approximately 38 members have been trained and employed by drilling rigs that are working for Tri Link and four have been trained and are working as contract battery operators. Recently four White Bear members were trained and certified as heavy equipment operators in a program jointly sponsored between Tri Link and the First Nation-run Kakakaway Learning Centre. In the past, the Kakakaway Learning Centre and Tri Link have teamed up to offer training to 30 individuals in the areas of chainsaw certification, chainsaw instructors certification and entry level training such as first aid, CPR and H2S Alive.
As well, the agreement provides White Bear companies and private contractors with the opportunity to bid for services required by Tri Link such as surface lease construction, pipeline construction, seismic line clearing, well site reclamation, trucking, well site maintenance and drilling and service contracting. As a result, seven new businesses have developed on the White Bear First Nation creating new employment opportunities and on-the-job work experience for many First Nation members. These activities have provided over 90 First Nation people with short or long-term employment”.
Part of that in the bill allows this to continue and to be expanded as they take control and management of their own resources. The bottom line in all of this was best stated by Chief Brian Standingready when he said that he “believes it is important that the first nation focuses on helping their people, rather than making profits”. “The oil”, he said, “won't be here forever, our people are our priority. We have to respect the land, our heritage sites, the environment. We always consider the future generations and ask what this is doing for them”.
White Bear in particular has been developing its governance structure in a number of ways. It operates White Bear Lake Resort, the Bear Claw Casino and works in an integrated and cooperative manner with the community of Carlyle, Saskatchewan. With the passing of this legislation, I see the role only increasing into the future. I think it is a good step and is going in the right direction.
I am looking forward to the White Bear First Nation continuing to lead by example, in its industrial expansion and in its involvement in various activities on the reserve, in upgrading the skills of the various participants, in taking part in business, in bringing back some prosperity and putting itself in a position and a place where it can look after some of the very basic needs that it finds facing its community.