This is the Legislative Committee on Bill C-2, meeting number nine. The orders of the day, pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, April 27, 2006, are for the study of Bill C-2, an act providing for conflict of interest rules, restrictions on election financing, and measures respecting administrative transparency, oversight, and accountability.
Our guests today are from the Assembly of First Nations. We have three representatives. We have the chief executive officer, Richard Jock; we have the chief of staff of the national chief's office, Bob Watts; and we have the special adviser, accountability, Daniel Wilson.
Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Do you have a point of order, Mr. Poilievre?
On behalf of the Assembly of First Nations, I'd like to thank the chair and members of the Legislative Committee on Bill C-2 for this invitation.
We would like to begin by being very clear with regard to our overall view with respect to the general issue of accountability.
First of all, first nations in Canada do already have a very fundamental accountability relationship, one that we think is unique in Confederation.
It is very clear also, as evidenced by the comments of the Auditor General yesterday, that the existing relationship has dramatically failed in terms of realizing the outcomes we all hoped for. We further believe that Bill C-2, as structured, will not achieve the objective of improvement of accountability for spending on first nations issues.
Third, we have recommendations and a process that we have been engaged in with senior officials and with members of government that will attain this overall objective of accountability, but we feel equally that the current process with this draft legislation puts that process and that kind of thinking at risk to a large degree.
We also have concerns with the effect of Bill C-2 as a matter of law, in terms of fairness, and in terms of practicality. I'll go over that briefly.
The question on law is that this aspect of the legislation appears to be inconsistent with section 35 of the Constitution of Canada, in that it represents an infringement on the inherent right to self-government.
In terms of fairness, in this act first nations governments are treated differently from other governments. It has the effect of singling out approximately 98% of first nations governments among all governments in the world who are recipients of funding from the Government of Canada for application within this act.
Third, in terms of practicality, first nations are already subject to greater oversight than any other level of government. In her remarks the Auditor General also made the point very clearly that in fact first nations are overburdened by unnecessary duplication of scrutiny.
First nations are anxious to improve the accountability relationship. The “Accountability for Results” initiative, which has been going on for almost two years, demonstrates this commitment on a national level. The Auditor General referred to this initiative in her comments on May 9. We know it will prove to be more effective than the existing provision in Bill C-2. As the Auditor General indicated, Bill C-2 will not contribute to greater accountability with respect to first nations. It will not have a positive effect and puts at risk first nations-led efforts to improve accountability in a practical and effective manner. Two of those efforts are--and you've heard of this, again, from the Auditor General--the idea of the first nation auditor general and a first nation ombudsperson.
As you've heard from the Auditor General, accountability is a relationship that is about much more than monitoring and audits. The Auditor General did not seek the expanded mandate in Bill C-2, and even if it is granted, we suspect from her testimony that she does not intend to use it, as she knows it will not be helpful in terms of increasing accountability.
Our recommendations are pretty straightforward. We recommend an amendment to Bill C-2 to treat first nation governments equally with other governments. We also seek the support of this committee for the Assembly of First Nations' “Accountability for Results” initiative.
It's important, I think, for members to know that for the past three months we haven't been able to move further on this initiative. It was moving with good speed, but I think some folks thought the initiative may be in conflict or may be a duplication. For whatever reason, that initiative hasn't moved forward. We've had the opportunity over the last three months to make great strides; we haven't done that, so we need your support.
Third, in this regard we've tabled papers with the committee to put on record an amendment to Bill C-2, and we've provided a copy of our position paper describing the Accountability for Results initiative.
I'd like to thank the chairperson and the committee for allowing us to make our opening comments. We're prepared to receive any questions the committee may have.
I'm sorry I couldn't be here for the first part of your presentation. But, being a bit of a speed reader, I did manage to read the brief you submitted and to hear what you said after oral question period.
I'd like to explore one of the points you raised. There's a huge myth about the financial assistance the Government of Canada has been providing to aboriginal communities for over a century. The myth of so-called handouts exists in the general population, among whites and other non-aboriginals.
You talked about the Crown's fiduciary responsibility toward first nations, in part because the white people—the French first and later the English—came and confiscated land. This was land that wasn't won through war. Later, other land was transferred under treaties, and in exchange, the Crown had a duty toward first nations.
That responsibility still exists because there was no expiry date in the treaties. For example, if I sign a contract with Mr. Poilievre without indicating any expiry date, I will be obliged to give him a sum of money, for example, or to look after him or his descendants in perpetuity. So, even 200 years later, that agreement is still valid and the obligation still exists.
In my opinion, all parties that have been in power in Canada have wronged the first nations by failing to educate people of French or British origin and people of all other ethnic origins who arrived subsequently.
Does that make sense?
I think there are two elements to your question, and it is a good question.
One element is that certainly, through a process of development, which we envision would include an incubation process within the Office of the Auditor General itself, we see the five principles of accountability being the same, regardless of whether it's a first nations government or a non-first-nations government. I think that what would be of interest to us is the development of the institution and a look at cultural match in terms of how some of the elements of transparency are carried out.
For example, at a community level for a first nation, it may be much more important to have ways of achieving transparency that match up with the local community, such as through a regular event or a feast or a regular annual gathering. These may be more culturally appropriate ways of addressing transparency than publishing something in a gazette or in a document. We would look for ways of expressing and carrying out those five principles in a way that makes sense.
The other element is that what we are asking when we request our exclusion from this bill is that first nations governments be treated the same as all other governments. Essentially, the way it's stated now, first nations governments are singled out for application in this legislation. So I would ask why first nations governments are being singled out in this process.
Second, if the Auditor General has already clearly stated her opinion on the value of engaging in this kind of exercise under this bill, and has clearly given a considered opinion, an apolitical opinion in my view, why is this still being considered, given that feedback? To me, this is beginning to look like it's a provision that makes no sense and is for no reason. If that is the situation, then I would ask why. And I have not heard a reason why.
[Witness speaks in her native language
The Quebec Native Women's Association supports our brothers at the Assembly of First Nations and the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and their efforts toward developing accountability and transparency in our communities. We acknowledge, however, that most of our communities are already engaged in good practices, and a vast majority submit their annual audits every year.
The biggest stakeholders are our people, and the most vulnerable are our women and children. A more efficient allocation of resources will benefit everyone, in particular native women who desperately need more shelters and programs that deal with non-violence. Yet as Sheila Fraser pointed out in her report, our cash-strapped communities are already overburdened with reporting requirements, and these reports are seldom read.
Therefore, we need to ask how accountable INAC is to us, how much of the money supposedly allocated to first nations communities is eaten up by inefficient bureaucracy. As it stands now, approximately 35% of the moneys allocated to aboriginal peoples is actually given to first nations communities. Therefore, we are concerned that the government wants to impose yet another layer of Canadian bureaucracy on our communities, without any meaningful consultation. This would benefit no one, neither the Canadian public nor aboriginal peoples. Furthermore, this is paternalistic and goes against the government-to-government relationship that exists between first nations and the Government of Canada. It also goes against our efforts of becoming self-determining peoples once again. We therefore support the notion of an independent aboriginal auditor general and we believe that native women should be involved in the criteria and the development of this position.
In order to promote a healthier relationship between the Government of Canada and aboriginal peoples, the following are a few of the recommendations of our organization: that the Government of Canada streamline the existing reporting requirements of first nations communities in order to make them more efficient and less burdensome, as in the previous recommendations of the Auditor General of Canada; that the Government of Canada take efforts to reduce the bureaucracy of INAC so that more of the budget allocated to aboriginal peoples actually reaches aboriginal peoples living on and off reserve; that the Government of Canada support aboriginal peoples in their efforts to build accountability frameworks and the development of an aboriginal auditor general and ombudsperson; that the process of developing the role of an aboriginal auditor general and ombudsperson include equitable representation of aboriginal women.
We agree with the principles of accountability and transparency, but the process should be in concert with aboriginal people. The imposition of unilateral decision-making by the Government of Canada will always be met with resistance.
Once again, I emphasize that it is time to forge a new relationship between our peoples that is based upon mutual respect, honesty, and integrity.
[The witness speaks in his own language].
Good afternoon. I am honoured to be here before you today and particularly to share this forum with my sisters, the aboriginal women of Quebec, with whom we have had quite a close relationship for many years.
I began my intervention with greetings and an introduction in my language. I think it's important for you to know that it is alive and well and forms the backdrop of our identity and place on this earth and in all of creation.
First of all, I would like to salute the leaders and the people of the Algonquin Nation, to whom we owe this opportunity to meet on their ancestral land, which they have never renounced. I also salute the representatives of the Assembly of First Nations, who went before us today. They made a presentation to the committee with which the representatives of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador are fully in agreement. I would also like to express all of my gratitude to this committee for giving us this opportunity to speak today on Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act.
My name is Ghislain Picard, and I am the Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador. The AFNLQ represents the 38 first nations communities of the land that many people know as Quebec and Labrador. The people and nations that make up the AFNLQ. AFNQL are the Cree, the Atikamekw, the Naskapis, the Innu, the Abenakis, the Huron-Wendat, the Mohawk, the Algonquin, the Malecite and the Mi'gmaq.
Please understand that my comments today are intended to convey a point of view that may seem difficult for some to accept, but I do this with the greatest respect for Parliament.
My presentation is short and to the point. I leave you with three simple messages:
One, I hope to have you begin to understand your obligations and Parliament's obligations to account to first nations for successive government's actions that have inhibited our very survival as peoples and nations.
Two, to have Parliament begin to honour its obligations to first nations by removing any reference to first nations in Bill C-2 and find alternative negotiated arrangements to deal with improving first nations' accountability for funds they receive that are voted by Parliament.
Three, the AFNQL accepts the notion of accountability.
You are charged with examining a bill that approaches accountability from a distinct but limited point of view. First nations, on the other hand, view accountability broadly. Canada has yet to account fully to its constituents and to first nations for its poor performance. And by the way, this could be a quote from the Auditor General's report yesterday. First nations are pressing Canada to account for and resolve our original jurisdiction in relation to Canada and full compensation for land theft and ongoing control and benefit from our lands and resources.
Let's examine the definition of “accountability”. In short, it is to show and take responsibility for actions and expenditure of funds, including the setting of goals, effective means to reach them, efficiency in performance, and results achieved.
First nations apply the definition to Canada in its broad, historic, and contemporary context. In other words, Canada sets unilateral goals for first nations. It devises plans to absorb us into the body politic. It ruthlessly applies its plan to our adults and children alike, and the results are poverty, isolation, lack of opportunity, decline of unique cultures, youth suicides, little or no economy, third-world infrastructure, harassment of traditional practices, and the list goes on.
You are wrong if you think I was referring only to historic times. For example, the inclusion of the clause in Bill C-2 that gives the Auditor General new powers to audit first nations governments is just one more, in this case, recent and contemporary example of unacceptable unilateral behaviour affecting first nations jurisdiction.
My comments are not just rhetoric. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and countless studies, including one from Harvard University, established that the socio-economic well-being of first nations depends on the recognition and implementation of first nations jurisdiction and first nations control over our territories; in other words, the practical, on-the-ground improvement of living conditions is tied to such recognition.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 requires Canada to negotiate its relationship with first nations. Most of the aboriginal title in Quebec is still not resolved. The terms of negotiations are so restrictive that Innu resources, for example, are being stripped from the land while negotiations drag on.
Canada's Constitution, the treaties and the courts, all supported by many studies, require the federal government to resolve the relationship with first nations through negotiations, to act in our best interest, and to uphold the honour of the Crown. Parliament shares those obligations. It votes money, passes legislation, oversees the government, and upholds the Constitution, all responsibilities that include legal obligations when addressing first nations matters. Each of you, as members of Parliament, shares in those obligations, yet I would be surprised if you are given any training, orientation, or information about that obligation. It is perhaps convenient to leave that duty to others, to your colleagues who have an interest, whose ridings include or border reserves, or those who are given specific responsibilities to deal with first nations. That is not good enough.
Unless you all collectively and individually accept and enforce the legal obligations you adopted when you voluntarily ran for office, Canada will continue to lurch in an ineffective, inefficient, and unaccountable direction as it relates to first nations.
The AFNQL recommends that this committee amend the bill to drop any reference to first nations and that it recommend to Parliament that the government be directed to develop jointly through negotiations with first nations suitable alternative arrangements to adjust improvements to first nations accountability for funds voted by Parliament.
The AFNQL also recommends that this committee seek independent legal advice on its obligations under law in relation to first nations and provisions relating to first nations in this bill.
Although the following recommendation may go beyond your mandate, I place it on the record nonetheless. The AFNQL further recommends that this committee recommend to Parliament that it contract independent, constitutional and legal advice regarding its collective and individual members' obligations under law to first nations, generally and that it develop and implement jointly with first nations training, orientation and information packages for all MPs about their obligations in relation to first nations.
Let there be no mistake. The AFNQL supports the notion of accountability. First nations leaders are currently accountable to the people who elect us. There may be room for improvement but it is not through unilaterally imposed legislation that improvements will be made. It is not accountability measures in legislation that will define the relationship between first nations and Canada. It is the relationship with Canada that will define suitable accountability measures.
I want to close my remarks in the beautiful Innu language. I will express the hope that someday the Innu and all first nations in Quebec and Labrador are fully respected in Canada and here in Parliament by having simultaneous translation of all debates in our language.
[The witness speaks in his own language.]
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'll get right to your recommendations. I understand the first recommendation. Are the second and third not alternatives to the first? Because if we were to omit or drop any reference.... And it's not just reference. In fact, if this proposed law did not intrude on the sovereignty of first nations, and therefore was eradicated from it.... I gather the second and third recommendations are more advisory and really wouldn't be needed.
My supplementary to that, as I go on to the second and third, is that the independent legal advice and other advice that we might seek.... This committee, frankly, might have trouble deciding how strong to make the coffee some days, so we're not likely to agree on who should be the independent legal adviser--unless you want to offer up Mr. Morgan, who's probably looking for some advice to give. But seriously, it might be very difficult for us in our structure. We have the Library of Parliament, excellent staff. We've had a number of witnesses from various federal departments to advise us, and after all, we are Parliament. So I was wondering if we could really make that work.
What would be the need--I understand your brief--to have independent legal advice if we are...and I won't say “just” to minimize it, but if we are really a committee of Parliament? The advice we receive from our parliamentary advisers is non-partisan. That's really all we can do in this context. What you're looking for is laudable, but maybe not achievable in this simple committee.
I'd like your comments on that.
I think that is an excellent analogy. For many, many years, we have been saying that we, as aboriginal nations, have been treated as wards of the state, and we continue to be treated as wards of the state.
The Government of Canada has much to do to improve its relationship with aboriginal people, but, more importantly, to improve its relationship with and treatment of aboriginal women. We find ourselves in situations in which women have been forced to live off reserve, and do not receive program moneys or services. I think there's a long way to go in rectifying the injustices that have been done.
This is perhaps not the right forum for it, but with regard to how moneys are spent on behalf of aboriginal women, I think there needs to be more consultation. As well, as I said, aboriginal women need to be involved in every aspect of decision-making, and have equitable representation. If there is going to be a national aboriginal ombudsperson or auditor, aboriginal women have to be involved in the discussions on what the criteria for that will be, because we are the ones who pass on the language; we are the ones who have kept the culture alive, along with the men; and yet we have been treated as second-class citizens.
Here is a good example: I am not a chief, so my opinion is considered less valuable because I represent aboriginal women; as an aboriginal woman, I don't find that acceptable any more.
With all due respect to Mr. Poilievre and his excellent comments, I am opposed to his motion for a number of reasons.
I have been on committees for a number of years, and generally when witnesses appear before us, we have a document prepared by the researchers with suggested questions. I sincerely believe that our researchers did that because they had time to do it, and that they're not doing it now because they don't have time, and yet we are only sitting 10 hours per week. If we sit 48 hours per week, logically, they will have less time, and so will we.
This is the first time I have been on a committee where we didn't have a document to prepare us to hear witnesses. In my view, it's not a mark of great professionalism. I would like to think that Mr. Poilievre agrees with me about that.
I am going to give a few examples to show that the bill needs to be considered quickly, of course, but that we still need time to study it seriously. I am referring to the part that deals with the political appointments commission. In my opinion, the decision announced yesterday by Mr. Harper to eliminate the political appointments commission, rather than to appoint someone else, is going to change our consideration of Bill C-2 somewhat.
For example, you announced, and it's a good thing, that the $1,000 reward would be eliminated. That shows how important it is to have witnesses. All of the witnesses proposed amendments. I submitted a document from the library that indicated that for the 600 acts passed between 1988 and 2000, the average length of time between first reading and royal assent was around 200 days. We are even willing to accelerate the process in order to cut that time in half, but I think it's a bit much to go from 200 days to 15 days.
Page 840 of Marleau- Montpetit says the following: “While the average length of a committee meeting is two hours,” twice a week, “a committee may choose to meet for a shorter or longer period...”
We voted that the committee, rather than meeting twice for two hours every week, would meet for 10 hours every week. We have just greatly increased the number of sitting hours. So we have been very cooperative and have shown that we are prepared to give quick consideration to the legislation.
For all of these reasons, which seem rational to me, we are going to oppose the motion. I would ask you to forgive me in advance, Mr. Chairman, because I don't want to presume what the outcome of the vote will be, but should there be a tie, does the chair's vote have to maintain the status quo?
Yes. My point, Mr. Chair, briefly, is that I certainly will be supporting this motion because I'm motivated, obviously, as I think a few other members are, to try to do the due diligence but to get it done, again, before the end of June.
We have many things going on in our ridings. I suspect that Mr. Sauvageau also does because of the amendment that he had presented earlier saying that if we have to sit in the summer, let's start in August rather than July. I'm assuming that he has many events, as I do, many commitments, as I do, in July. So clearly I would like to do what we need to do to thoroughly examine this bill, but also to be out of here in a reasonable time--by the end of June, I would suspect.
It seems to be a concern that by altering the schedule to expand the sitting times as his motion proposes, we would inconvenience, in some manner, the witnesses who have already been contacted. My point is that we have a break week coming up, and I would suspect that the clerk or others could probably reschedule or get more witnesses in. That would give them from now until May 29--approximately ten days--to accommodate their schedules, to get to the committee on its expanded time schedule. I don't think it would be a true inconvenience for any witnesses if we gave them that much time in advance.
If there are a lot of witnesses, as everyone suggests there may be, we should be able to schedule them and have a packed week when we return from break. If that ends the witness list, we would be able to get into the clause-by-clause examination, where I think, quite frankly, Mr. Chair, we're going to see the majority of work done.
Once we have heard the witnesses with all the amendments--and many of them have been very useful and I think good amendments--we'll get down to the clause-by-clause examination, which is the meaty work of this committee, to get this bill passed. I think the sooner we can get to the clause-by-clause examination, the better served Canadians will be. So that's why I'm voting in favour of this motion.
Yes, I think that this is important, if I could remember it.
It was that the additional hours, that approach be tabled against the development of some sort of a methodology that we are going to consider amendments. Other than more deputations, we really haven't talked about a schedule of how we're going to deal with amendments. And I'm not suggesting that we should deal with amendments as the Martin-Poilievre mechanism that has developed. I'm very envious of that. I would hope there's one that I can be included on for the next round so I could get credit for it.
Mr. Chairman, seriously, I don't think the committee is at all opposed to extended meetings, whether it's within the framework suggested by Mr. Poilievre or another one, if it's against a work schedule. And that work schedule is how are we going to go through the clause-by-clause?
If we don't have any sense of and any intake of suggested amendments, I think we're just going to be spinning our wheels. So my suggestion would be that we table this motion and that members give consideration, or that our parliamentary research give consideration, as to the methodology that we will be using, whether we can prioritize amendments, and that we can start scheduling part of our work program on actually that clause-by-clause, but much more focused than just starting at the beginning and going through the bill.
If that makes sense, Mr. Chairman, I put it forward.