Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-5 on behalf of the Bloc Québécois. This bill amends the Indian Oil and Gas Act.
Allow me to summarize. The summary of this 24-page bill is worth reading.
This enactment amends the Indian Oil and Gas Act to clarify and expand the existing regulation-making powers and to add new ones, particularly with respect to licences, permits and leases for the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas on reserve lands and the determination and payment of oil and gas royalties. It also puts in place sanctions for contraventions of the Act as well as provisions for its enforcement.
The Bloc Québécois has always respected the rights of aboriginal nations. That sense of respect will inform the Bloc Québécois' participation in committee through our critic, the excellent member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, who will defend the interests of both first nations representatives and the Quebec nation.
Naturally, the Bloc Québécois supports the principles underlying this bill. Despite its imperfections, the bill will provide the necessary tools to harmonize existing laws and regulations governing reserves with the laws and regulations of the provinces in which they are located. When this bill goes to committee, our party, the Bloc Québécois, will ask for more details about, among other things, the terms and conditions relating to authority to issue replacement leases for lands added to reserve and, subsequently, oil and gas exploration and exploitation permits issued by the federal government.
The Government of Canada must not use Bill C-5 to abdicate its fiduciary responsibilities toward aboriginals. We must clearly identify the oil, gas and lands that may be affected, as well as the federal government's fiduciary obligations toward aboriginal peoples.
The government is responsible for rectifying inequalities between aboriginals and non-aboriginals. We do not feel that this bill does that. This is part of a bigger picture; it addresses and resolves part of the problem, but it would be false to suggest that this bill can resolve or rectify inequalities between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
I will reread the summary:
This enactment amends the Indian Oil and Gas Act to clarify and expand the existing regulation-making powers and to add new ones, particularly with respect to licences, permits and leases for the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas...It also puts in place sanctions for contraventions of the Act as well as provisions for its enforcement.
We can see here that Canada made a choice long ago to turn over oil and gas exploration and exploitation to the private sector.
Many countries in the world develop their own oil and gas resources. That is a choice. Canada, like the United States, simply decided to put this in the hands of private enterprise. When a country does that, it must pass legislation and provide for sanctions in the event that legislation is violated. Clearly, this is what part of this bill is intended to do.
I would remind hon. members that the development of a new fiscal relationship between the first nations and the Government of Canada has been the focus of discussions and analyses for more than 20 years. It has been talked about for over 20 years. As early as 1983, the Penner report, a report by the House of Commons Special Committee on Indian Self-Government, recommended that the fiscal relationship between the federal government and the first nations be redefined.
In 1996, the final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples—also known as the Erasmus-Dussault commission—also recommended a full review of the fiscal relationship between the federal government and the first nations. The proposed initiative focused on redefining this relationship within a broader context based on first nations self-government. The Tlicho self-government act that we passed in this House is an example of this.
The First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act, which came into effect on April 1, 2006, was one of the first steps in this new fiscal relationship between the first nations and the federal government.
This optional law contains two new provisions: the first makes it possible for first nations to manage and regulate oil and gas activities on reserves; the second, to manage funds held in trust for them by Canada. A first nation can choose either option. In other words, they need not own oil or gas to become responsible for managing these monies.
This legislation will change the way oil and gas are developed and it will allow first nations which are self-reliant to develop these resources on their own land. Previously, first nations have had to comply with the Indian Oil and Gas Act and its regulations, which has not allowed them to manage these resources directly.
The First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act allows first nations, that choose to do so, to be excluded from the application of the Indian Oil and Gas Act and its regulations.
That act, the Indian Oil and Gas Act, is the legislation governing exploration and exploitation of oil and gas resources on reserve land. This legislation does not allow first nations to manage the oil and gas resources on their land directly nor does it allow them to develop an appropriate regulatory framework.
Since 2006, the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act has allowed first nations, if they so choose, to create regulations concerning oil and gas exploration and conservation, on the spending of moneys derived from the exploitation of these resources, and on the protection of the environment.
As for regulations to protect the environment, those established by first nations will have to at least meet the standards of Quebec or the province in which the aboriginal community is located. This is important to us, the Bloc Québécois. Protecting the interests of Quebeckers is just as important as protecting the interests of first nations and aboriginal peoples. Obviously, the law that applies to first nations must be the same as the law that applies to Quebec.
In terms of managing their finances, those first nations choosing to come under this new legislative framework will be subject to different regulations regarding money. This money is currently defined in the Indian Act as all moneys collected, received or held by Her Majesty for the use and benefit of Indians or bands.
For these first nations, the provisions of the Indian Act will no longer apply. They will therefore be able to manage the amounts collected directly, rather than letting them be managed by the federal government. As a result, they will be able to make their own choices for investment in their communities instead of letting the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development dictate priorities to them. Auditor General Sheila Fraser pointed out in her 2004 report that this department is not doing a good job of administering the billions of dollars intended for the aboriginal communities. The best way for aboriginal communities to do this is to negotiate with the federal government as equals.
If a first nation does not feel it would be advantageous to come under the new legislative regime, the current standards will continue to apply to it, so it will continue to benefit from the provisions of the Indian Act, including those that apply to the administration of Indian moneys.
Bill C-5, which is identical to Bill C-63 and Bill C-5, which died on the order paper June 17 and December 3, 2008, respectively, amends the Indian Oil and Gas Act.
It is important for those watching us to understand why bills die on the order paper. As we all know, this is because an election is called or the House is prorogued. In that sense, since the Conservatives have been in power, they have had the pleasure either of calling an election, even though it went against their own legislation regarding fixed election dates, or deciding to simply prorogue the House in order to stay in power. The adverse effect of that, of course, is that all the bills needed for the well-being and progress of the people, such as aboriginal communities in this case, are lost simply because the Conservatives decided either to call an election or prorogue the House.
At present, under the 2006 legislation, first nations that have oil and gas resources but are not managing them must leave the management of their resources to Indian Oil and Gas Canada, a government agency that falls under the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Indian Oil and Gas Canada, or IOGC, has a mandate to manage and administer the exploration for and production of oil and natural gas resources on first nation reserve lands. This organization encourages production and ensures proper collection of royalties on behalf of first nations.
But the Indian Oil and Gas Act has not been amended since it was passed in 1974. Of course, in 1995 a regulation was passed concerning Indian oil and gas, but that is not satisfactory given how the market has evolved since 1974. As the industry has become more and more complex, provinces have constantly modernized their oil and gas legislation. And that is why the federal government is now deciding to modernize its legislation—to bring it more into line with reality and various pieces of provincial legislation.
This bill would apply to reserves that have not chosen to exercise rights under the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act. This bill would apply to first nations that are subject to the Indian Oil and Gas Act. That represents approximately 200 First Nations that produce or could be producing oil and gas.
Currently, more than 80% of these activities take place in Alberta. In 2005 and 2006, more than $270 million in oil and gas revenue was collected by the federal agency that manages Indian oil and gas resources, IOGC. This organization has signed active production agreements on behalf of 60 first nations.
This bill would give the same weight to the industry's activities both on and off reserve—based on provincial legislation—in order to decrease the number of obstacles to first nations economic development, in order to ensure environmental protection on the reserves and in order to allow the government to better fulfill its obligations to first nations in terms of managing these industries by respecting regulations and collecting royalties and other applicable types of revenue.
Under the Indian Act, oil and gas revenues are collected by the federal government and are then to be completely redistributed to native peoples. This money is referred to as “Indian moneys” in the Act and the federal government has fiduciary responsibility for it.
This bill does not transfer to first nations the federal government's power to manage and administer oil and gas exploitation and production activities on reserve lands.
Its purpose is to update the Indian Oil and Gas Act and harmonize the federal legislation with the legislation in the provinces where first nations communities are located. Incorporating the provincial acts and regulations will neither remove any jurisdiction from the provinces nor confer any jurisdiction on them. For example, reserves' environmental regimes will continue to be harmonized with provincial requirements.
The bill replaces almost all of the provisions of the existing six-section Indian Oil and Gas Act and includes a number of matters that are currently provided for in the Indian Oil and Gas Regulations, 1995.
Bill C-5 expands the Governor in Council's existing regulation-making powers and adds new ones, particularly with respect to licences, permits and leases for the exploration and exploitation of oil and gas on reserve lands.
The bill also makes changes in respect of the limitation period for actions to collect amounts owing and the determination of royalty payments. It puts in place sanctions for contraventions of the act as well as provisions for its enforcement comprising fines and penalties, a remedy for trespass, environmental protection clauses and authority to issue replacement leases for lands added to reserves.
It would be interesting to have more information about lands added to reserves and to know what measures are being put forward in negotiations with the provinces. The Bloc Québécois plans to ask some pointed questions about this in committee. We could ask what is meant by expanding the Governor in Council's regulation-making powers and how the provinces will be consulted before regulations are introduced.
For example, even though the bill states that these lands have been absolutely surrendered under the Indian Act or the First Nations Land Management Act, it would be interesting to get some clarification about the negotiation process with the provinces and obtaining a permit on these added lands.
The bill also requires the minister to undertake ongoing consultations with the first nations involved with respect to negotiations with industry. The new section 6(1.1) states that:
The Governor in Council may, by regulation,
(a) require that a power of the Minister under this Act in relation to first nation lands be exercised only if prior approval of the council of the first nation is obtained, if the council is first consulted or if prior notice is given to the council, as the case may be;
(b) require that any such power of the Minister be exercised only if prior consent is given by any first nation member who is in lawful possession of the first nation lands; and
(c) require that notice be given to the council of the first nation after the Minister exercises any such power.
Through Indian Oil and Gas Canada, and in cooperation with the Indian Resource Council, the government consulted most oil-producing first nations and 130 band councils in 2002 and 2003.
The Indian Resource Council was founded in 1987 to represent first nations' collective oil and gas interests with both government and industry. Current membership exceeds 130 first nations from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories. Six non-producing first nations in Quebec are also members: the Odanak Abenakis; the Natashquan Innus; the Kanesatake Mohawks; the Gesgapegiag Micmacs; the Kahnawake Mohawks; and the Wôlinak Abenakis.
Our aboriginal affairs critic met with Indian Resource Council delegates. Some council members are dissatisfied with certain aspects of the bill, but on the whole, the council is happy with the bill and the consultations that took place.
The Bloc Québécois will therefore support the bill in principle.
While far from perfect, this bill will provide the tools needed in order to standardize the legislation on reserves with that of the provinces where they are located. The Bloc Québécois will demand clarifications during the committee's study of this bill, for example, regarding the terms and conditions relating to authority to issue replacement leases for lands added to reserve, as well as oil and gas exploration and exploitation permits issued by the federal government.
The Bloc Québécois will ensure the Government of Canada does not use Bill C-5 as a means to slough off its financial obligations with respect to first nations. The Government of Canada has a fiduciary obligation to aboriginal peoples and it cannot shirk it.
Although passing this bill will engender improvements, the federal government must do a lot more for aboriginals. The housing conditions, education and health of aboriginals are inferior to those of the rest of population. On the reserves, most families—65%—live in substandard housing. The Bloc Québécois deplores the fact that the lack of affordable housing of adequate size and quality for aboriginals has consequences beyond simple housing standards. Various medical and social problems are linked to poor housing conditions and quality of life. The Government of Canada must make the effort needed to correct the situation without simply handing over the problems to the first nations.
Once again, although not perfect, this bill may help create an environment that we hope will be conducive to first nations obtaining resource royalties and reinvesting them in their own communities.
The Bloc Québécois is concerned about aboriginal claims for self-government. Autonomy cannot be attained unless a nation controls its economic levers.
I am the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel and my riding is adjacent to the Kanesatake Mohawk nation. It is important to try to understand others. Last year, I had a rewarding experience with young artists. The Centre de l'image et de l'estampe de Mirabel decided to sponsor aboriginal artists who are now touring Canada. For the past two years, this centre has taken under its wing young Mohawk artists from Kanesatake, our neighbours, and it has been an enriching experience with the results now touring Canada. It is an honour for a population that is often forgotten by governments and left to its own devices. When we try to help these nations to help themselves good things can happen. I hope that this bill will attain its objective.