Mr. Speaker, I wold like to speak to Bill C-23, the FIrst Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act in the debate at report stage.
The last time this assembly discussed the FIrst Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act, some people wondered whether the first nations in fact supported the bill. Not only do many of them support it, they have worked long and hard to move it forward. These first nations deserve our support.
Bill C-23 is an extension of a series of measures initiated some fifteen years ago. In 1988, the House of Commons passed an amendment to the Indian Act which had been proposed by a first nation, a historical first.
This amendment, commonly referred to as the Kamloops amendment, in honour of the Kamloops first nation, had to do with the economic development of first nations. The amendment clarified the authority of first nations to collect property taxes on reserve lands, Before this amendment, taxes paid by non-aboriginals on property located on reserves often went to nearby municipalities.
As a result, many first nations did not have access to a revenue source they absolutely needed to provide services to their community and improve their local economy. Consequently, this deprived them of opportunities for economic development, job creation and improved quality of life for residents of the reserves.
All parties in the House gave their support to the 1988 amendment. Those who voted in favour will all be pleased to learn that it did indeed generate new possibilities for the first nations. Bill C-23, inspired by the lessons learned since 1988, should have that same unanimous support.
The 1988 amendment created new conditions. In 1989, the first nations headed the creation of the Indian taxation advisory board, the purpose of which was to help the first nations establish a property tax system. In 1995, they set up the first nations property tax commission. SInce then, this administration has helped first nations to raise private capital mainly via the bond market, using tax revenues in order to finance the infrastructures needed for their economic growth.
Bill C-23 is largely based on the research done and the experience gained by these two first nations bodies. Over the years, these organizations have consulted the first nations that were collecting property taxes, including the taxpayers and the financial and commercial sectors. These efforts proved very successful.
This budding tax system has allowed for the construction of public facilities on reserves, including drinking water supply and sewage treatment systems to support commercial development. Indeed, this tax system has allowed for the construction of public facilities that benefit all residents and that facilitate the delivery of public services to which these people are entitled, in return for the property taxes that they pay.
The current first nations property tax system provides greater financial leeway to local decision-makers. This has allowed them to improve public services for their community and to build their local economy. However, like any new system, experience tells us what improvements need to be made. This is why Bill C-23 is based on some 15 years of experience and seeks to strengthen the tax system to make it a real tool for sustainable economic development.
Bill C-23 will improve benefits for participating first nations. It will build a more comprehensive and more transparent tax system that will provide greater certainty to taxpayers, commercial partners and potential investors. These conditions are necessary to ensure thriving economies.
The bill also establishes the legal and constitutional framework that first nations need to set up a bond financing system.
This system will be available to all first nations that meet the eligibility criteria, and will reduce their borrowing costs by 30% to 50%. It will provide a better return on taxpayer dollars and a better balance between costs and benefits.
Although a growing number of first nations have adopted property tax bylaws in accordance with federal legislation, others have opted out of these provisions.
Each community can decide whether or not to exercise its taxation authority. Bill C-23 simply makes the necessary tools available to them. Each nation can choose to start imposing property taxes, using the provisions in the federal legislation. To do so, each nation must adopt its own bylaws. To date, 98 first nations have imposed property taxes in accordance with the provisions in the Indian Act, and 30 other nations are preparing to do so.
Agencies established under Bill C-23 will provide first nations with the professional support they have until now not had, which limited their potential for economic development in the Indian Act taxation system.
The first nations who choose not to levy property taxes or issue bonds will nevertheless benefit from the provisions of Bill C-23, which sets up dynamic statistical and financial management systems. These systems will be of interest to a number of nations trying to successfully complete their transition to self-government.
The bill makes it possible for individual first nations to choose the laws and services they need. It is a kind of menu perfectly suited to the first nations of Canada, whose interests and perspectives vary considerably.
Bill C-23 offers opportunities to the first nations—they can choose to take them or not. The experience of 1999 with the First Nations Land Management Act has shown the wisdom of this approach.
When that legislation was introduced, only a few first nations saw the advantage of establishing a legal framework that would give them greater mastery of their lands. These first nations called for changes and put their energy into achieving them. Today, more than 100 first nations want to use the tools in the First Nations Land Management Act to meet their needs.
The Auditor General of Canada consulted 13 first nations and 4 tribal councils and governments in 5 provinces. Her 2003 report describes the three main obstacles to economic development for the first nations, namely, barriers to accessing economic development resources, barriers to accessing federal business support programs, and barriers resulting from federal management and institutional development approaches.
Bill C-23 illustrates the work of a group of first nations who came together to overcome some of these barriers to their development. They did so for a good reason: they knew their members were suffering everyday because of the presence of these barriers causing lost opportunities and reducing their quality of life.
These first nations deserve our full support for this bill.
The time has come to go ahead with Bill C-23. The time has come to support the first nations who will take advantage of these provisions in order to attract and maintain investments in their communities. The time has come as well to give them the tools that non-aboriginal communities have taken for granted for a very long time.