Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill C-54, the First Nations Oil and Gas and Moneys Management Act. This bill will open up access to the natural resources and the immeasurable wealth of the first nations’ ancestral lands, allowing the money to be used for our aboriginal nations.
The intent of Bill C-54 is to give first nations the opportunity to manage and regulate oil and gas exploration and exploitation, and to receive the moneys that Canada retains for them. This bill was introduced in the House of Commons on June 1, 2005. It allows for the transfer, to the first nations named therein, of the management and control of the oil and gas resources found on their lands and the payment to the first nations of the moneys held in trust for them by the Crown.
The Bloc Québécois supports this bill. Although not perfect, it will give first nations the tools they need to achieve greater self-sufficiency when they have oil and gas resources on their lands. The first nations who opt to take advantage of the services provided for under this bill will be able to participate more actively in their economy and strengthen their autonomy. The first nations' demands for the authority to manage their own affairs are a matter of interest to the Bloc Québécois. Self-management can be achieved only when a nation controls the levers of its own economy.
The Government of Canada must not use Bill C-54 as a way of evading its fiduciary responsibilities towards the first nations. It bears a responsibility to rectify the inequalities between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.
I am very happy to be able to talk about the importance to a first nation of being able to participate in the economic development of its own territory. We know that the ancestors were always in favour of using their lands for their livelihood and their development. The impact on the life of the communities who are fortunate enough to participate in the development will be huge, in both social and economic terms.
The Bloc Québécois recognizes the aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination, as I noted in Geneva during a study session of the Commission studying the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The role of trustee and the expectations that we should have with regard to the Department of Indian Affairs in the area of economic development will allow us to develop industries drawing on the resources of the territories negotiated.
It is important to remember that the standard of living of aboriginal peoples is much lower than that of non-aboriginals in Canada. The importance of reducing this gap has been noted on many occasions, notably in the throne speech on October 5, 2004.
Many first nations believe that economic development is the key to achieving this goal. However, it is difficult for a first nation that has no control over its lands and resources to achieve this. In her report in November 2003, the Auditor General of Canada pointed out that one of the barriers to economic development resulted from the federal approach to institutional management and development.
This report also stated that “several First Nations consider the department's approach too slow, too short term, and on some occasions, poorly administered”.
A large number of first nations and their organizations have worked diligently toward assuming greater responsibility for their lands and resources. Bill C-49, An Act providing for the ratification and the bringing into effect of the Framework Agreement on First Nations Land Management (First Nations Land Management Act), which received royal assent on June 17, 1999, is a good example of legislation giving participating first nations greater autonomy in the management of their lands. Under that legislation, any first nation may opt out of the land management provisions of the Indian Act and manage its lands using its own land management code. The First Nations Land Management Act, however, does not affect in any way the management of oil and gas resources on first nations lands.
The development of a new financial relationship between the first nations and the Government of Canada has always been the basis for discussions and analyses over the past 20 years or so.
Already in 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 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 had the honour of passing in this House is an example of this.
Bill C-54 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. To date, 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 management initiative was launched in February 1995. This pilot project provided for the gradual transfer of management and control of oil and gas resources on the land of five first nations: the Blood tribe of Alberta, the Siksika first nation of Alberta, the White Bear first nation of Saskatchewan, the Horse Lake first nation of Alberta, and the Dene first nation of Alberta.
Only the Blood, the Siksika and the White Bear continue to participate in this initiative. The pilot project was directed by a steering committee composed of representatives of Indian and Northern Affairs, Indian Oil and Gas Canada, the participating first nations, and the Indian Claims Commission.
This project was divided in three phases: co-management, enhanced co-management and management and control by first nations. During the first phase, the administrative duties were shared between the first nations and IOGC, and decisions were made jointly.
In the second phase, IOGC maintained its authority and the first nations received the necessary training to perform IOGC functions. The pilot project is now in its final phase. It needs Bill C-54 to pass in order for the powers to be transferred to those first nations meeting the requirements in the legislation.
Bill C-54 will change the way oil and gas are developed and will allow first nations that are self-reliant to develop these resources on their own land. To date, 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 management initiative was launched in February 1995. This pilot project provided for the gradual transfer of management and control of oil and gas resources.
Bill C-54 would allow first nations, that choose to do so, to be excluded from the application of the Indian Oil and Gas Act and its regulations. This act is currently the legislation governing the exploitation and exploration of the 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.
However, Bill C-54 would allow any first nation, if it chooses to do so, to create regulations on oil and gas exploration and preservation, 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.
As far as management of their finances are concerned, those first nations choosing to come under this new legislative framework will come under different rules as far as “Indian moneys” are concerned. These are currently defined in the Indian Act as all moneys collected, received or held by the federal government 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 directly administer the amounts collected rather than letting them be administered 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.
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.
Lastly, we wish to point out that the Bloc Québécois has endorsed the core recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The commission set forth an approach to the concept of self-government based on recognition of aboriginal governments as a level of government with jurisdiction over issues concerned with good governance and the well-being of their people.
Furthermore, the entire report is based on recognition of the aboriginal peoples as self-governing nations occupying a unique place in Canada.