Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to participate in today's debate. I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on traditional Algonquin territory.
Our government is committed to renewing the relationship with indigenous peoples based on the principles of the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
We are also committed to growing the middle class by creating opportunities for people that will help them join it. Everyone knows that indigenous peoples have long been faced with some of the most severe economic disadvantages in this country.
This problem has deep roots in the history of colonialism, including in strict measures written into legislation like the Indian Act. Let me give an example. Ed Metatawabin is a residential school survivor from Fort Albany First Nation who attended St. Anne's residential school and became a chief in his community. After he became chief, he started a small sawmill business so that people in his community would have work and the sense of purpose that accompanies work. However, because it was illegal under the Indian Act for him to own the land, he could not get insurance on his business, so he had to keep his business small to minimize any potential liabilities. Any investment he made was a personal risk to him and his family. A lot of Canadians do not understand this. They do not understand the daily barriers first nations people face on reserve.
Today we have an opportunity to rectify some of these measures and to unlock economic growth for indigenous peoples. We have a chance to create an environment that supports self-determination. This will not only be good for indigenous peoples, it will be good for Canada.
The National Indigenous Economic Development Board has estimated that engaging indigenous people in the economy at the same rate as non-indigenous people would boost Canada's GDP by 1.5% and create almost $28 billion in economic growth. Several others have suggested that the number is actually much higher.
Today we are seeing a wellspring of indigenous-led innovation and sound business practices. There are now over 40,000 indigenous-led small and medium-size businesses in Canada. That is why I say we need to build on these successes. Let us remove barriers to further success and self-determination. That is the objective of the new legislative measures set out in the proposed budget implementation act.
I want to clarify that these amendments are not top-down solutions. We developed them in consultation with our first nations partners and by asking for their contribution and their participation from the outset.
The Government of Canada is proposing amendments to the First Nations Fiscal Management Act that would provide greater clarity around language, streamline organizational operational issues, and expand access to the program to complement new budget 2018 funding of $50 million over five years and $11 million per year ongoing. The act is opt-in and enables first nations to implement taxation and financial management systems.
First nations are supported by three fiscal institutions operating under the act: the First Nations Tax Commission, the First Nations Finance Authority, and the First Nations Financial Management Board. These institutions build capacity among first nations and bring them together to access long-term financing, and it has been a very effective approach.
For example, the First Nations Finance Authority fifth debenture of $138 million, issued in September 2018, brought its total bond issuances to $514 million. This bond is being used by first nations across the country to invest in community infrastructure and economic development, such as the new school for Siksika Nation, a power project in Chehalis, and housing for Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation.
The new budget 2018 investments would enable the fiscal institutions to work with nearly twice as many first nations to develop their capacity and have greater access to capital. To date, 239 first nations are scheduled in the act.
Access to funding is one thing, but we can all agree that access to the land is critical for economic empowerment. The Government of Canada is proposing $143 million in budget 2018 to strengthen the First Nation Land Management regime and support 50 additional first nations in becoming signatories to the Framework Agreement on First Nations Land Management over the next five years.
As well, the proposed amendments to the First Nations Land Management Act before us today would ratify changes to the framework agreement, changes that were co-developed with first nations. These fixes address voting thresholds and other administrative improvements that will better support first nations that are signatory members to develop their own land codes, or laws, to exit section 33 land-management-related provisions of the Indian Act. That’s one-third of the Indian Act.
The fixes will also eliminate federal oversight and enable first nations to “move at the speed of business” on investment and development opportunities.
For example, Stz’uminus First Nation, which has been operating under its own land code since 2014, has been able to create Oyster Bay Development—a 65 acre, multi-million dollar site that includes a hotel and a commercial area along the TransCanada Highway—without any need for Indian Act approvals.
Another mechanism to improve the relationship between Canada and first nations and move toward enduring reconciliation is the return of land that is owed to first nations under historical treaties and specific claim settlement agreements. With additions to reserves, ATRs, first nations can also add land to an existing reserve land base or create new reserves for the use and benefit of their members for community and economic development.
The Government of Canada is proposing this legislation to streamline the ATR process, building on the benefits of legislation that is currently only available to some first nations in the prairie provinces. These changes are long overdue. They are part of a number of actions the government committed to take when it adopted a new ATR policy directive in 2016, after several years of engagement and joint work with first nation communities and organizations. The biggest proposed change is that ATRs would now be able to be approved by ministerial order rather than by Governor in Council, which would result in significantly more timely decisions.
The proposed legislation would also speed things up by letting first nations pre-designate land being added to a reserve, similar to zoning in a municipality, and begin to put in place arrangements, such as leases or permits, prior to the land being added, a vital requirement for investment opportunities. This would help create reserve lands that are ready for economic development.
ATRs support economic development opportunities, self-reliance and growth in first nation communities. For example, in September 2018, the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation added 79 acres of land to its reserve. The land is currently home to a gas bar and a convenience store, with future plans for a restaurant, a hotel, commercial space and an outdoor stage.
Collectively, these amendments regarding finances and land support reconciliation with indigenous peoples would result in greater long-term benefits for Canada. I encourage all members to support them.