Thursday, June 17th 2010 - Bill C-24 First Nations Certainty of Land Title Act - 2nd Reading Speech

First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act

Bill to Amend—Second Reading

Hon. Rose-May Poirier moved second reading of Bill C-24, An Act to amend the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act and another Act in consequence thereof.

She said: Honourable senators, thank you for this opportunity to outline the advantages of Bill C-24 and the many benefits it will bring to First Nations and all Canadians.

There are so many persuasive arguments as to why we should all support Bill C-24, it is hard to choose just one to discuss. There is the positive impact this bill will have on First Nations' social and economic development. There is the fact that Bill C-24 will enhance governance capacity so that First Nations can respond to their unique challenges and opportunity. Also, let us not forget that this bill builds on the success of the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act to provide an improved regulatory system applicable to reserve lands.

One of the facets of this bill that encompasses all other aspects is the difference Bill C-24 will make in the lives of First Nations. This government is delivering results that are making a difference in the lives of Aboriginal people. It is doing so in the spirit of true partnership. In fact, this bill benefits from the support not only of federal and provincial organizations but also First Nations groups.

One of the key goals of our government has been to enable Aboriginal people to succeed in the Canadian economy so that they can maximize the benefit of self-sufficiency and prosperity. This has been emphasized in every Speech from the Throne since 2006 and was powerfully reinforced with the release last June of the new Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development.

The framework aims to foster economic development by enabling new opportunities and partnerships like this one to strengthen Aboriginal businesses and increase employment among First Nation, Inuit and Metis. This bill is further proof that by working together towards mutually beneficial goals, we can achieve measurable and sustainable progress.

It was the Squamish Nation that came forward with the proposal that required these amendments to the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act. In order for a major commercial real estate development project to proceed on its land, the community recognized that the act needed to be amended to address the lack of land title certainty on reserve lands that currently erodes investors' confidence.

The potential of the project that the Squamish Nation is interested in pursuing is enormous. It could see the Squamish Nation construct five waterfront condominium towers on reserve land in partnership with private developers, Larco Investments Limited. The first phase of this initiative alone is forecast to result in the construction of between 700 and 900 commercial condominium units that could achieve gross sales of $560 million to $720 million.

Over the course of the next decade or more, a total of 12,500 units could be built with a market value that could reach up to $10 billion. Needless to say, such a development would make a meaningful and lasting difference in the standard of living and the quality of life of Squamish Nation residents, while providing that region with jobs and an economic boost. This project would likely be only the beginning of even more economic development projects that would spin off from this first commercial venture.

Especially exciting about this initiative is that similar projects may spring up in other First Nations communities across the country. Kamloops and Musqueam First Nation in British Columbia, Tsuu T'ina First Nation in Alberta and the Carry the Kettle First Nation in Saskatchewan have all shown interest in this legislation. With the passage of Bill C-24, they could take advantage of the proposed amendments to move forward with similar types of development. We know there is genuine enthusiasm and support for the legislation because it has been built from the ground up.

Development of the amendments to the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act benefited from the expertise of the Squamish Nation, whose representatives have valuable, practical experience in the complexities of advancing a major leasehold commercial real estate development project. They have a direct interest in the success of this bill. Their input and feedback was helpful as these amendments were being developed.

Squamish Nation has also been taking an active role in outlining the benefits of the bill before us today. In addition to engaging parliamentarians, they have had discussions with First Nations that showed an interest in pursuing similar projects in their communities.

To raise awareness and to gauge the level of interest in these amendments, correspondence was sent by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to the provinces as the bill was being developed. The information package provided background material concerning the intent and the potential benefit of the proposed amendments. The provinces were also offered briefings if they wanted to discuss the amendments further.

When this bill was introduced, information packages were also sent to all First Nations across Canada. This was the latest in a series of ongoing outreach efforts to First Nations since the passage of the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act, which came into force on April 1, 2006. A variety of communication tools have been launched in recent years, including brochures and a tool kit that contains general information and frequently asked questions regarding the act. The tool kit contained documentation on roles and responsibilities, a process flow chart and a checklist of steps for First Nations interested in pursuing a project under the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act.

Communication and consultation efforts extend beyond these measures. For instance, in collaboration with the University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan, two symposia on the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act were held in 2007 and 2009 to explain and promote this enabling legislation and to share lessons learned from projects being pursued under the existing act.

Honourable senators, I should point out that two other major projects, aside from the Squamish Nation commercial real estate development project, have been approved under the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act. They are the Fort William First Nation wood fibre optimization plant in Ontario and the Fort McKay First Nation oil sands initiative in Alberta. A proposal has recently been received from the Kitamaat Indian Band in British Columbia to regulate a liquefied natural gas facility and port.

Other First Nations have demonstrated emerging potential to use the economic development capacity of the act, as well. This speaks both to the need for and the level of interest in these new vehicles that facilitate economic development on reserves.

Honourable senators, our consultation and partnership activities were not confined to First Nations. Our government also held constructive meetings with representatives of the province of British Columbia, who are keen to move forward with this bill. The Premier of British Columbia has written to the Prime Minister on two separate occasions to state his support for the Squamish Nation's project as an example of how the proposed amendments can support First Nations economic development.


Provincial officials have also expressed support for a federal approach that will create as much regulatory compatibility as possible for on- and off-reserve projects related to the major leasehold commercial real estate development. It is expected that other provinces will develop a greater interest in the legislation as First Nations and industry partners begin to advance similar projects in their regions.

Last, but not least, among our important partners are the private-sector investors. As Larco Investment Limited in British Columbia has made clear, investors recognize — and want to work with First Nations on — the tremendous economic development potential on reserve lands. They are far from alone in this regard. From One Earth Farms, straddling Saskatchewan and Alberta's First Nations, to the oil patch, to mining and forestry firms, to the big banks and to the high-tech sector, Canada's business leaders are at the forefront of these initiatives in partnerships with First Nations.

This is good news, not only for the investors who stand to profit from this progress, but also for affected First Nations that will see equally impressive benefits in the form of increased employment, incomes and resulting social development from such projects.

Ultimately, this kind of collaboration is good for all Canadians. Public financing in support is only part of the long-term solution to the complex challenges facing Aboriginal people. Fiscal realism dictates that we invest wisely where we will produce the best results, but we have to recognize the limits of our influence and build strategic partnerships whenever they make sense.

In the case of Squamish Nation, they certainly do. Not only do these partnerships make good business sense, but we work best when we work together. By collaborating closely to advance economic development projects with Aboriginal people, we can benefit from their contribution to the mainstream Canadian economy and to the life of our country. Most important, we can ensure that they share equally in all that Canada has to offer.

This bill sends a clear signal to all Canadians that we have entered a new era of Aboriginal economic development. First Nations across this country are engaged in some of the most exciting and profitable projects to be found.

As the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development told a business audience last June:

The road forward out of dependency is already being paved.

Aboriginal communities today operate airlines, wineries, mines, oil and gas projects, hydroelectric dams, credit unions and commercial farms. With Bill C-24, they will take the next step forward into commercial real estate development.

Honourable senators, it is clear that we must do more to unleash the potential for economic and social progress in Aboriginal communities. Bill C-24 moves another step in that direction by creating opportunities for First Nations across the country with the prospect of large-scale commercial housing developments.

What is more, Bill C-24 is an example of the power of partnership, and a clear indication of what we can accomplish when we join forces for the greater good.

I urge all parliamentarians to work in the same spirit to pass this legislation.

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