Mr. Speaker, I rise today with great pleasure to indicate our party's support for the proposed first nations commercial and industrial development act. I echo the comments of my colleague that the legislation clears the House of Commons immediately, hopefully today. We will be working on that and discussing it over the course of the day.
As I rise to speak to the legislation, I wish to begin by pointing out that the legislation originates less with the Government of Canada, or this hon. House, than it does with the first nations communities themselves. It is extremely important legislation, and I will talk to the details in a few moments.
The legislation originates with the leadership of the Squamish First Nation in British Columbia, the Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta, the Tsuu T'ina First Nation, which is part of the Calgary community in Alberta, Carry the Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Fort William First Nation at Thunder Bay.
These communities have taken the leadership to move toward sectoral self-government, to create opportunities in their own communities and to advance the social and economic well-being of the people who live in those communities and who are members of those first nations. Their efforts are to be applauded. They have fought vigorously over the last five years to develop the legislation. On behalf of our party in particular, we acknowledge the efforts they have undertaken and the success that they will experience.
If I might be forgiven, with respect to one of the first nations, the Fort McKay First Nation, as the critic of our party, it is of particular satisfaction to me to see this matter move forward. I was involved, in a prior life before coming to the House, in the resolution of the land claim settlement of the Fort McKay First Nation. I think Canadians need to understand just how far we have moved in a very short period of time in our country with respect to the progress of some first nations. Much more needs to be done, but if we look at the situation in Fort McKay, it is very telling and useful for all Canadians.
I first became involved with the Fort McKay First Nation when I was a treaty commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission. We travelled to Fort McKay in the early to mid-1990s. We conducted a treaty land entitlement inquiry and ascertained that the Fort McKay First Nation had never been given the land it had been promised when it signed treaty. I do not have time at this juncture to go into all the details of that. However, in the days that followed, the Indian Specific Claims Commission released a report, which I co-authored. That report resulted in a treaty land entitlement settlement. As a result of that, the Fort McKay First Nation is in a position to proceed with oil sands development on their first nation.
It is with pleasure that we now are moving toward legislation that would allow the Fort McKay First Nation, the Tsuu T'ina, Carry the Kettle, the Squamish First Nation and the Fort William First Nation to proceed with comprehensive economic development in their communities. The stumbling block to this development has been the Indian Act. The Indian Act was a compilation of pre-confederation statutes. It is at this point close to 150 years old. There is no way the Indian Act provides a sound basis for industrial development of this complexity and the Conservative Party has been very clear. I will just quote from our policy framework. It states:
The Indian Act (and related legislation) should be replaced by a modern legislative framework which provides for the devolution of full legal and democratic responsibility to First Nations...within the overall constitutional framework of our federal state.
This is precisely the type of legislation that our party has been supporting on a philosophical basis. The legislation provides full control of their own legal and democratic decision making authority to those first nations that determine they wish to opt into the legislation, and the legislation is optional, in a manner which indicates considerable prudence and wisdom, once again using the situation of Fort McKay.
It is clearly incomprehensible that we would attempt to develop federal legislation and regulations dealing with environmental and reclamation issues, air and water quality, all the panoply of issues that involve the development of oils sands, when that framework already exists. It exists in law in the province of Alberta. Very comprehensive legislation has been developed to permit oil sands development. In the case of Squamish, we are dealing with port development, as well as in the case of Fort William. In the case of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation, we are dealing with very comprehensive commercial real estate development, et cetera.
The legislation allows Canadians to opt in to the existing well developed provincial legislative framework to regulate that industrial activity. Presumably, it is possible to opt out as well. It will require, under the legislation, the consent of the first nation itself. It has to originate with the first nation and it is its decision. It requires consent of the province and of the minister as well.
I think one can see how this will permit economic development to proceed immediately and it will eliminate the need to develop an entire duplicative regulatory regime for much of this development.
Congratulations to the first nations. The legislation is well thought out and developed. It has been carefully crafted. It is certainly in a position where it can clear the House very quickly.
The legislation enjoys wide support. It was made clear at our committee that both the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta are supportive of the legislation. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has reviewed it and considers it to be very advantageous as well. The legislation arrives in the House, having been followed very closely and having been supported by first nations. The Assembly of First Nations, as I understand it, has indicated its general support as well.
The regulations that would be developed under the legislation would be site specific. They would follow upon the framework of the legislation. One question that needs to be addressed is the whole issue of federal liability in this context. The legislation deals with that. The federal crown is not responsible once the provincial regulatory regime comes into place. The decisions made under that regulatory regime do not increase any federal legal responsibility.
In a general sense, I would point out that this is excellent legislation. It will permit first nations that opt in to it to move ahead very quickly with commercial and economic development. There are those who are critical of it. To be sure, it does not solve all of the issues that we face in this nation relating to self-government. There are many first nation communities for which this legislation will not be advantageous. We have to continue to move forward developing economic and social opportunities and social justice for those first nations as well. This is a start.
For those first nations to which this applies, it is very important legislation and warrants the support of the House. It will contribute to regulatory certainty, economic development and most important, it will encourage significant investment on these first nations.
The legislation has been developed in close consultation with first nations. That is a first precondition insofar as the Conservative Party is concerned. Self-government legislation, whether it is sectoral or otherwise, cannot be developed in isolation by the federal government. Consultation is required. Second, this legislation will have an immediate positive economic impact on the first nations that wish to see it developed. Third, philosophically, the legislation is extremely important to where we are headed in the country. It is important that first nations have the opportunity to assume control of their own lives and to lead the country in a positive direction.