Mr. Speaker, a primary goal of the Prime Minister and the government is to close the gap in socio-economic conditions between first nations peoples and other Canadians.
The bill, the first nations commercial and industrial development act, FNCIDA, would allow first nations to participate more actively in the Canadian economy and to access engines of economic development.
In working toward fulfilling this goal, the government signed an accord with the Assembly of First Nations at the May 31, 2005 policy retreat, which underlined a shared commitment to helping first nations exercise greater control over their social and economic aspirations.
The government is committed to working with first nations to build stronger indigenous economies leading to greater economic independence.
The legislation represents a bold step forward in the partnership between the federal government and first nations. It builds on the success of previous legislation in this area, the First Nations Land Management Act and the proposed first nations oil and gas and moneys management act, Bill C-54, which is currently before the House.
This bill, like these two legislative initiatives, will give first nations who opt into the legislation the confidence that comes from accessing and developing the resources on their own lands. As such, it represents a very powerful tool to build economic opportunity and improve the quality of life on reserves.
First nations across Canada are considering development opportunities that will improve economic and social conditions on their own reserves. For example, Fort McKay First Nation in northern Alberta is pursuing over a billion dollar oil sands development to be developed by and with Shell Canada Limited. The oil sands in general represent enormous economic opportunity for all Canadians, including first nations like For McKay. Billions of dollars of investment will be flowing into the oil sands in the next few years. We know this and first nations want to be players and participants.
The investment in Fort McKay would create unprecedented job and revenue growth, along with vast opportunities and quality of life and social and cultural development on reserve and employment opportunities in the region. We are very pleased to move forward on this.
For these types of projects to proceed on reserves, first nations need effective regulatory regimes and existing federal legislation currently does not provide the authority to establish them, creating a regulatory barrier or gap.
The Constitution Act, 1867, gives Parliament exclusive authority in respect of “land reserve for the Indians”. Also, the Indian Act, the Canadian Environment Assessment Act, the Canadian Environment Protection Act and other federal legislation were never intended to provide a complete federal land regime on reserve. In her 2003 report, the Auditor General found that regulatory barriers like this are one of the main impediments to first nations economic development.
Therefore the government has responded to these concerns and is making legislative and regulatory renewal a priority. FNCIDA is an important part of this legislative and regulatory renewal and is designed to remove barriers to first nations economic development. This legislation is also consistent with the government's smart regulation initiative.
In its 2004 report, the external advisory committee on smart regulation recommended that the federal government “accelerate its agenda to modernize the regulatory regime in first nations communities and address regulatory gaps that inhibit the development of commercial and industrial projects on reserve land”.
For companies that were considering locating major commercial and industrial projects on reserve, like the multi-billion dollar oil sands development at Fort McKay, the bill would provide the authority to establish regulatory frameworks to address regulatory gaps, offering certainty and transparency for industry proponents and tearing down this barrier to economic growth.
First nations themselves have asked the federal government to help them attract and facilitate economic development on their lands by providing a framework like FNCIDA, which would enable the federal government to regulate large scale complex commercial and industrial projects. I can attest to the fact that the leaders on these reserves, who are the proponents of the bill, are capable, willing, able and anxious to get on with this legislation.
FNCIDA would allow the federal government to replicate provincial laws and regulations to apply to these projects on reserve. This would ensure that as first nations and investors or industry at large move ahead with these major projects, they are regulated in a fashion similar to similar projects off reserve. It would give the added benefit of stability for investors and developers as they deal with the same provincial regulatory regime that they already know and understand. It makes sense.
How does FNCIDA work? Consideration of regulation under FNCIDA for a specific project would be triggered when a first nation itself passes a band council resolution requesting regulations related to a specific project on the reserve, not a generalized project but a very specific major development project. Next, the federal government would conduct an analysis prior to making a final decision on whether to proceed with the development of regulations for the project.
If the regulations are to proceed for the project, the Government of Canada would in most cases seek an agreement regarding the administration and enforcement of the regulations with the province and the first nation. An indication of support from first nation members for the project and the use of regulations under FNCIDA would also be required. Typically, this support would be shown through a community vote.
First nations are leading this initiative. Five partnering first nations have passed band council resolutions in support of this legislation and have been eloquently advocating the initiative in other first nations communities. They have done so because, as we know, they are the best advocates for their proposals.
The five partnering first nations are Squamish Nation in British Columbia, Carry the Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan, Fort William First Nation in Ontario, and Tsuu T'ina Nation and Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta. They have been assisted, with other partnering first nations, in getting the message across the country. I know that they have written at least twice to all the chiefs across the nation to carry the message to every province and every first nation. I have seen letters showing this.
A resolution of support for the legislation has been received from the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations. As well, there have been letters of support from the Uchucklesaht Tribe and the Skeetchestn Indian Band of British Columbia.
In addition, the government has been actively engaged in discussions with several provinces, particularly Alberta and Ontario, where first nations are actively advancing specific projects. In committee, we heard from an Alberta official that Alberta is particularly responsive to this particular proposal, as others would be.
There are active engagements with officials in other provinces, particularly in Alberta and Ontario, as I have mentioned, where first nations currently are advancing specific projects. Officials in both of these provinces have expressed support for a federal approach that would create as much regulatory compatibility as possible for on and off reserve commercial and industrial projects. They are very willing to discuss provincial involvement in monitoring and enforcing regulations for specific projects.
More recently, Saskatchewan and British Columbia officials have also expressed interest in this legislation. It is very much expected that other provinces will develop greater interest in the proposed legislation as first nations and industry partners begin to advance projects in their jurisdiction. Representatives of the oil and gas industry have also indicated strong support for this bill.
By moving forward this important piece of legislation, the government is demonstrating its commitment to work in partnership with first nations communities toward the goal of improved social and economic conditions. I must underscore how necessary this is for economic and social development on reserves. One is a partner with the other. We cannot get the increased viability of a community, the wealth of its culture and the enhancement of services to the people on reserves if there is not a land base to give the economic base. Then they can be a full partner and take it from the initial exploration or exploitation to the delivery.
Across this country, there are very fine leadership examples of first nations that are ready. This is what we are enabling. We all know that there are other first nations, places and communities across this country that have their challenges. They have different needs at this time, but some will be ready at a later stage and some first nations are ready now. As a government, we have to work with all levels of readiness and we have to facilitate. That is what the first ministers meeting next week will do, on some levels, but right now we also cannot forget and leave behind all of this important legislation that we need to move forward for the advancement of economic opportunity.
I encourage all members of this House to move this piece of legislation forward by the end of the day. I think that would be extremely positive.