Mr. Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-34.
The Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement was negotiated by Canada, the Province of British Columbia and the Tsawwassen First Nation.
Tsawwassen treaty negotiations began 15 years ago in 1993. Tsawwassen members ratified the final agreement through a community vote, with 70% of eligible members voting in favour. In October 2007, the Province of British Columbia introduced and subsequently passed settlement legislation to ratify the Tsawwassen final agreement.
The majority of the clauses in Bill C-34, which have been proposed for deletion, are fundamental to the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement. The effect of removing these clauses would render Canada unable to fulfill the commitments it has made in the final agreement. In fact, deleting these clauses would effectively result in Canada not ratifying the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement.
Canada negotiated the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement in good faith and we are fully committed to implementing this agreement with all its provisions and commitments. To delete these fundamental clauses of Bill C-34 would be unacceptable, unfair to the parties and to the agreement, and a dishonour to the Crown.
When Tsawwassen chief, Kim Baird, addressed the provincial assembly in November, she said that one of the most important things the Tsawwassen treaty achieved was a new relationship between the Tsawwassen, British Columbia and Canada, that it achieved reconciliation, that true reconciliation signified real action and tangible change and that true reconciliation was the product of this treaty.
I am proud of the Tsawwassen First Nation final agreement and all Canadians can be proud of this treaty. It represents a positive and tangible step forward in building a new relationship with the Tsawwassen First Nation and the Crown.
I would like to take this opportunity, however, to address concerns that have been expressed about the possible impact of tax sharing arrangements on non-member residents of Tsawwassen First Nation lands. No such tax sharing arrangements have been concluded and may not be concluded for many years.
However, the Government of Canada supports the exercise of tax powers by first nations and has a well established policy approach for negotiating tax sharing arrangements with aboriginal governments. About 40 such arrangements have already been concluded under existing legal frameworks, such as the First Nations Goods and Services Tax Act enacted by Parliament in 2003.
Such GST and personal income tax arrangements are outside the treaty and would not change the amount of tax that non-member residents of first nation lands would pay, how they pay their taxes or what they receive in the way of federal services or benefits. These tax arrangements will not affect the ability of resident non-members to vote in federal or provincial elections or to make their views known.
The Tsawwassen treaty itself does not give the Tsawwassen First Nation the ability to impose taxes on non-members of the first nation. The first nations tax system only applies to non-Tsawwassen members through government to government agreements outside the treaty. Canada will only answer these arrangements under conditions that would protect non-members' interests, such as full harmonization and coordination with the corresponding federal tax.
There would be no additional tax burden on non-members. GST and income tax would continue to apply in exactly the same way as enacted by Parliament in federal tax legislation, using the same rates, the same rules and the same Canada Revenue Agency forms, administration and recourse processes.
Based on delegated, discretionary and terminable tax arrangements, Parliament retains ongoing political accountability for the application of the tax to non-members and for its decision to share tax room. Under these circumstances, these arrangements do respect the principle of representation.
Tax sharing arrangements would also include mechanisms to contain the amount of forgone federal revenue where, for example, non-members of the first nations account for a significant proportion of the first nation tax base. For instance, if such a tax arrangement were in place now, the Department of Finance estimates that about 40% of the total personal income tax derived from all residents of Tsawwassen lands would be shared with Tsawwassen and Canada would retain 60%.
Finally, I would stress that these taxes would apply equally to members of the Tsawwassen First Nation. The Tsawwassen treaty will end the existing Indian Act tax exemption following an agreed upon transition period. It, therefore, encourages the first nation to exercise its tax powers. These taxes would generate revenues that would help to fund the first nation's programs and services. They would contribute to the shared responsibility for funding self-government and reduce dependence on federal transfers. They would also encourage greater accountability between the first nation and its citizens and thereby promote better governance.
It is clear that it is important that Parliament pass Bill C-34 in the form in which it was ratified by Tsawwassen members and by the British Columbia legislature.