moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, as we all know, good governance is the cornerstone of healthy and progressive societies. It is a prerequisite to achieving both social and economic success, so today I am proud to speak in support of new legislation that will foster strong and accountable first nation governments.
With this proposed legislation, community members will know what their leaders are being paid. As well, they will have clear information about the financial decisions made by their leaders so that they can make informed decisions about the future of their community at community meetings and elections.
This transparency will also provide potential investors with the confidence to enter into economic development investments with first nations. Economic development brings jobs and revenues that the community can then use to invest in activities, programs and infrastructure to improve the well-being of all its members.
Under this proposed legislation, first nation governments will be required to prepare consolidated financial statements and post them on a website each year, along with the salaries and expenses of the chief and councillors. This will provide easy access to important information about the first nation by its members and by entities interested in working, investing or partnering with the first nation.
Before I elaborate on both the necessity and the benefits of the first nations financial transparency act, I would like to assure my hon. colleagues that what we are asking of first nations is nothing more than we ask of ourselves.
Nothing better exemplifies our commitment to openness than the way we disclose salaries of elected officials paid from the public purse, everyone from the and members of cabinet to members of Parliament. All of us as parliamentarians fully disclose our salaries and special allowances to the public. Canadians can easily find all of these facts and figures, since the Federal Accountability Act also increased the public's access to information about government activities.
The Government of Canada posts its financial statements on the Finance Canada website. Individual federal departments and agencies disclose travel and hospitality expenses for executives on their websites as well.
We are not alone in making such information available to the public. Most provinces and territories release such information. Salary levels for members of their legislatures as well as supplementary amounts paid for taking on additional duties are posted on their websites, and in some cases, such as Manitoba and Ontario, public sector compensation in excess of $50,000 and of $100,000 respectively is also disclosed to the public.
Many municipalities across Canada post their financial statements and disclose information about compensation to their employees on the Internet as well.
While many first nation governments have put in place sound accountability practices that ensure transparency, there is no legal requirement for them to release this information to community members, and many do not. While many governments in Canada post this information on the Internet, recent research by my department found that as of February 2012, only a limited number of the more than 350 first nations that have their own website have done so.
Clarity about government expenditure and results is vitally important to securing public trust. Visible evidence of effective first nation accounting practices would reassure community members and potential investors that first nation leaders are spending their community funds prudently and appropriately.
Under current funding agreements, first nations councils are already required to provide my department with audited consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration for all elected officials, so we are not creating additional paperwork that would add to their reporting burden.
At the moment there are no statutory or regulatory guidelines related to transparency for first nations governments; consequently, community members cannot easily hold their leaders to account. The manifestation of democratic rights that other Canadians take for granted is not in place for many first nation members.
Currently the only recourse for community members who are denied access to a first nations audited consolidated financial statement is to appeal to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. We receive many complaints.
Some first nations do not willingly release such information when requested. In these cases, the only option for complainants at the moment is to bring the issue to my attention. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has sole authority to compel a first nation to release financial information. This puts me in the position of perpetuating a sense of paternalism that both first nations and our government are working to overcome.
As it is now, when first nation members raise concerns about the non-disclosure of financial information, we respond. My officials work with the band governments to have it released, and if these efforts fail, the department then provides the information directly to the individual member who is requesting it.
The current system is unnecessarily complicated and, quite frankly, undemocratic. It is entirely reasonable for first nation members to expect their governments to meet the same basic accountability standards as other governments in Canada.
I have no doubt that most first nations strive to be accountable to their members and to the federal government. Some first nations go to great lengths to inform members and the public about the operations of their governments, displaying the information on their community websites or posting it in band offices. However, others have not developed and adopted accountability practices. This erodes the stability of their governments and communities. It also tends to undermine Canadians' confidence in first nation governments generally.
In addition, such cases give potential investors reason to hesitate when debating whether to enter into business arrangements with first nations. Before signing a partnership, the private sector wants assurance it is dealing with a reliable and reputable government. If there are doubts, a business may well decide against a joint venture, denying communities the possibility of new jobs and increased prosperity.
Our government is committed to putting in place the legislative frameworks that will foster strong, self-sufficient and accountable first nation governments. We also want to provide the information to first nations members that is available to other Canadians. This will help to build stronger relationships and ultimately create a healthier environment for investment and economic development.
We have developed Bill in fulfilment of our pledge in the 2011 Speech from the Throne. It will fill the current legislative gap and rectify the many shortcomings I have outlined.
The first nations financial transparency act builds on the excellent work of my colleague, the member for , whose former private member's bill, Bill , was introduced in the fall of 2010 to enhance the financial transparency of first nation governments. It called for the publication of information regarding chiefs' and councillors' pay.
Bill goes further. It expands the scope of information to be publicly disclosed to include first nations audited consolidated financial statements. The act would entrench in law a financial accountability framework for first nations consistent with the standards observed by other governments across the country.
A further improvement is the clear requirement that first nations adopt the rules established by professional accounting bodies, such as the Public Sector Accounting Board of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.
Effective the first financial year after the act comes into force, first nation governments would be required to prepare audited consolidated financial statements and post them on a website each year along with the salaries and expenses of their chief and councillors.
First nations would have 120 days following the end of the financial year to post this information either on the first nation's website or the website of a tribal council or partner organization.
Audited consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration details for more than 600 first nations would also be published on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's website.
Easy access to this important information would ensure fairness and accountability, something community members quite rightfully expect.
Apart from making financial information readily available to community members, it would also simplify the process for potential investors to acquire the information they need to make business decisions. Data collected from first nations would also be posted on our departmental website. This would allow firms to go to a single source to compare one community with another when considering a potential joint venture.
Another new requirement under Bill would give first nation members better remedies if their governments fail to honour their obligation to open the books to the public.
If a first nation does not post the required financial data as required, anyone would be able to apply to a superior court to compel the first nation to publish the information. Once the information is released, it would also be posted on my department's website. This provision would allow a first nation member to hold the leadership accountable.
First nations governments have long advocated for more flexible funding arrangements. They want greater autonomy in allocating the money received under federal funding transfers. This legislation would build upon and recognize the capacity of first nation governments, enabling them to demonstrate that they are accountable governments that respect the basic principles of financial transparency.
This would be a key factor for my department in determining which communities are the best candidates for more flexible funding options. Building upon a first nation's demonstrated abilities and increased accountability, there would be greater opportunities to move from contribution funding to grants in some areas of programming.
I should point out that these same accountability requirements already apply to first nations that have signed self-government agreements. For example, the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement requires that the first nation develop a financial administration system with standards comparable to those generally accepted for governments in Canada. The Nisga'a Financial Administration Act stipulates that the first nation make its financial statements available for inspection by members, including posting the statements on the Internet.
Because self-governing first nations are already demonstrating this high standard within the context of the self-government agreements, they are exempt from Bill .
When first nation governments manage their finances in line with practices in other jurisdictions, it instills confidence in the business community and can provide economic development opportunities in the community. An open, accountable government is a stable government, removing uncertainty that might discourage investment.
This is being proven repeatedly in communities with settled land claims and self-government agreements. Increasingly, they are entering into joint ventures with the private sector to create jobs and generate economic growth in their communities. We are confident that Bill would help to make this happen in a broader way.
This proposed act would guarantee to community members as well as other levels of government, the business community and all Canadians that first nation governments are effective and transparent in their business dealings.
Once Bill C-27 becomes law, first nations citizens would be able to participate more fully in the democratic process, receive information they require and have the assurance of redress where required.
In conclusion, I am asking all parties to stand behind this very necessary and overdue legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill . I will declare at the outset that New Democrats will be opposing the legislation.
I will read from the legislative summary and I want to thank the analysts for the very good work they did in providing a good background on this bill.
The summary states:
The proposed legislation...applies to over 600 first nations communities defined as “Indian bands” under the Indian Act, provides a legislative basis for the preparation and disclosure of First Nations' audited consolidated financial statements and of remuneration, including salaries and expenses, that a First Nation or any entity that it controls pays to its elected officials.
I will come back to the entity because it is an important reason for us to oppose the legislation.
I want to start, though, by reminding the House and people who may be listening about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government indicated it would support and take some steps in implementing it in Canada. Of course, we have seen no action on that.
Article 4 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says that indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions. This is an important aspect in that this is about the right to autonomy and self-determination. This bill was not developed in consultation with first nations and it certainly does not reflect that right to autonomy and self-determination.
I will provide a bit of background. When we listen to the Conservatives, sometimes we think that first nations do not do any reporting. I have to point out that first nations governments currently do all kinds of reporting and audited statements.
I want to refer to a couple of pieces out of the legislative summary. It states:
First Nations and the federal government are both subject to various policy-based and legal requirements regarding the management and expenditure of federal public funds...
Through various federal reporting requirements, First Nations are also accountable to AANDC for the federal public funds they receive.
In turn, through the annual audit cycle and program reports, AANDC is answerable to Parliament and the Canadian public.
AANDC's expenditures are listed in the Public Accounts of Canada, as are contribution agreements signed with First Nations.
The summary goes on to talk about current legal requirements and states:
—the Indian Bands Revenue Moneys Regulations require, in part, that a band's financial statements be audited annually, and that the auditor's report be posted “in conspicuous places on the Band Reserve for examination by members of the Band.
There have been some questions about the whole issue around access to information, and there is an analysis. I want to touch on one point on the Access to Information Act. This is an important piece of what first nations are being asked to disclose versus what other non-public sector organizations are being asked to disclose.
The summary goes on to state:
Section 20(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act prohibits a government institution from disclosing financial information provided to it by a third party who consistently treats this information as confidential. In Montana Band of Indians v. Canada...the Federal Court held that First Nations' financial statements are confidential information within the meaning of section 20(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act, and therefore are not subject to public disclosure. However, in Sawridge Band v. Canada...the Federal Court of Appeal held that these financial statements are not confidential vis-à-vis the members of the First Nations band, since band members may review their own band's financial statements under the Indian Bands Revenue Moneys Regulations.
This is important because these court cases indicate that first nations have a right to have this information disclosed to them, but it is not the right of the general public to have access to what could be confidential information.
Under the section titled “Current Policy-Based Requirements”, it states:
Under the Year-End Financial Reporting Handbook, First Nations must submit to AANDC annual audited consolidated financial statements for the public funds provided to them. These include salaries, honoraria and travel expenses for all elected, appointed and senior unelected band officials. The latter includes unelected positions such as those of the executive director, band manager, senior program director and manager. First Nations are also required to release these statements to their membership.
We already have rules in place that govern the release of this information. We heard the minister say that this was policy but now the government needed legislation. I would argue that the minister already has the authority, and in fact the minister admitted he has the authority, to request this information when it is not being submitted.
In December 2006, we had a report commissioned by the Conservatives called “From Red Tape to Clear Results: the Report of the Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grant and Contribution Programs ”. This report recommended a couple of general principles around grants and contributions, which included:
1) Respect the recipients—they are partners in a shared public purpose. Grant and contribution programs should be citizen-focussed. The programs should be made accessible, understandable and usable.
The key thing in that is “Respect the recipients”.
The second guiding principle states:
2) Dramatically simplify the reporting and accountability regime—it should reflect the circumstances and capacities of recipients and the real needs of the government and Parliament.
Further in the report, the authors specifically dealt with first nations, Inuit, Métis and other aboriginal organizations by saying:
Fiscal arrangements with First Nations governments are complex, reflecting not only the varied circumstances of the 630 First Nations in Canada but also the fact that payments to First Nations governments are (or ought to be) more like intergovernmental transfers than typical grants and contributions.
Intergovernmental transfers would actually respect that nation-to-nation status that I believe Canada has agreed to through the negotiation of treaties.
The report goes on to say:
The panel is of the view that mechanisms other than grants or contributions for the funding of essential services such as health, education and social assistance in reserve communities are needed...
Then it went on to say that it was outside of its mandate.
The report did say:
Nevertheless, in all our consultations...we were reminded that the current practice of treating these kinds of transfers to First Nations, Inuit, Métis and Aboriginal organizations as more or less standard contribution arrangements is fraught with problems and leads to a costly and often unnecessary reporting burden on recipients.
I come back to the fact that an auditor general looked at the kind of reporting that was required from first nations communities and, over and over again, the auditor general continued to talk about the fact that first nations were required to do all kinds of reports.
The minister spoke about the Whitecap First Nation, and I will refer to that for one second. It came up in a question. The aboriginal affairs committee was fortunate enough to visit with the Whitecap Dakota First Nation and look at the economic enterprises. The minister has argued that part of this would lead to better economic development. The Whitecap Dakota has a very different take on that, and it has raised concerns with the other entity that I referred to in section 6(1) of the act. There are many first nations like this, but Whitecap is an example of a first nation that has in place stellar reporting requirements.
The letter states:
—that ensure the members of Whitecap are fully apprised of Whitecap's financial position. In this regard, Whitecap has approved 20 unqualified audits and has implemented a system of public review of the audits. In addition, as you are aware, Whitecap has also created the Whitecap Council Compensation Commission that has the specific mandate of ensuring that the compensation received by the Whitecap Council is fair, equitable and accountable.
The letter goes on to say that there are some concerns about the fact that salaries or expenses are lumped into a definition of remuneration which would have the potential to mislead people as to what his salary actually was. Of course members in the House have salaries and expenses reported quite separately.
It further states:
Bill C-27 on the other hand goes beyond the reporting related to funds received from the Federal Government. It would also appear to extend beyond the requirement for public sector reporting under generally accepted accounting principles as consolidated reporting of remuneration would include any business entities controlled by a First Nation.
The minister said that would only be salaries paid by these entities, but why would the federal government be interfering in a business project where a band member would be receiving remuneration from that business entity? If the Conservatives were truly concerned about economic development, they would focus on providing first nations the tools and resources they need to do that economic development, rather than looking at what a chief or council member was paid from another business entity. I am not clear why the minister is thinking that enhances economic development.
Many of the first nations that we visited, these were business partnerships. A private sector company works with a first nations company in a business partnership relationship, and some of these businesses may not want some of this information published for competitive reasons. Therefore, I would urge the government to take a hard look at this.
It was also interesting to hear the minister talk about openness and accountability. In his speech he said, “open accountable government is a stable government”. The Conservatives are setting up a double standards. On the one hand, they are saying that first nations have to do more, report more, be more open and accountable, despite the fact that they file almost 200 reports every year to the federal government. The Auditor General has identified that. On the other hand, they will not come clean when it comes to releasing their own facts and figures about the budget implementation act, Bill , its costs and what the impact will be on that. In fact, in an article dated June 19, the PBO said that the Conservative government was fighting him on access to information. He said that government-wide budget cuts would impact federal agencies.
If open and accountable government leads to stable government, why is this government not willing to cough up the facts and figures itself? Why does it have two different standards?.
Further on in this article, Mr. Page said, “What does this even mean? Someone has to explain that to me. Does he mean”, referring to the , “we're having too much impact?” He goes on to say:
Well I ain't apologizing for that. I'm not apologizing for the work we did on the F-35s, on crime bills, or on the fiscal sustainability reports. Those are all papers the government has not produced, that I produced with help from a group of people you could fit around two dinner tables.
For months, Page has been asking for detailed information on the Conservatives' plans for implementing $5.2 billion in government-wide cuts. Although the overall figure was revealed in the March budget, Canadians remain in the dark in terms of how the cuts will affect programs and services they use.
Page published a legal opinion this week, solicited from a leading constitutional lawyer, that concluded that 64 agencies were withholding information and breaking the law by denying the information.
Later in this article, “Following Page's initial request for information, only 18 of 82 federal organizations came through”.
Surely anybody who is looking at this information would recognize that we have an inequality and an injustice here. On the one hand, the federal government refuses to tell Canadians about the taxpayer money it is using. It is refusing to give that information through the Parliamentary Budget officer. On the other hand, the government is saying that first nations have to be subject to a different set of rules that the government itself does not respect. Why would they ask anybody in the House to support that bill?
There are a couple of other points I want to raise on this issue. I refer back to the Auditor General's report of 2002, entitled “Streamlining First Nations Reporting to Federal Organizations”. According to the legislative summary for this bill, this 2002 Auditor General's report:
...described existing federal reporting requirements as a “significant burden” on First Nations communities. It estimated that an average of 168 reports—200 in some communities—are required annually by the principal federal bodies that provide funding to First Nations for the delivery of various programs and services. The report suggested, among other things, that federal departments and agencies better coordinate their reporting requirements by streamlining their program authorities, thereby reducing the number of audits and reports required of First Nations.
The legislative summary goes on to say:
In a December 2006 status report on the management of programs for First Nations, the Auditor General found that meaningful action by the federal government was still needed to "reduce the unnecessary reporting burden placed on First Nations communities.” Noting that AANDC alone obtains more than 60,000 reports a year from over 600 First Nations, the report concluded that the resources devoted to the current reporting system could be better used to provide direct support to communities.
Surely, with 60,000 reports and the authority that already resides with the minister, there is sufficient reporting going on. I would refer back to the report from the independent blue ribbon panel as well, which also highlighted the excess reporting required from first nations, Métis, Inuit and other aboriginal organizations.
Again, nothing has happened with this 2006 blue ribbon report. Nothing has happened in terms of looking at the nation-to-nation relationship. Nothing has happened in moving toward intergovernmental transfers instead of the grants and contributions process that is in place.
There is no doubt that at times community members have difficulty in getting the information they need, but the minister has already acknowledged that he does have the authority to get bands to release that information. The question again becomes one of why the minister does not exercise his authority.
In his speech, of course, the minister indicated that exercising that authority is paternalistic. However, it is a bit odd that on the one hand he is saying it would be too paternalistic for the minister to require the reports that are already in the policies under AANDC, while on the other hand the Conservatives have included an administrative measure in Bill under proposed paragraph 13(1)(b) that the government could:
withhold moneys payable as a grant or contribution to the First Nation under an agreement that is in force on the day on which the breach occurs and that is entered into by the First Nation and Her Majesty in right of Canada as represented by the Minister, solely or in combination with other ministers of the Crown, until the First Nation has complied with its duty
If that is not paternalistic, I do not know what is.
It sounds to me that on the one hand the minister is saying that he does not want to interfere, but on the other hand, he is making sure that he could interfere with proposed paragraph 13(1)(b).
Another question I asked the minister was on proposed subsection 6(1), which says:
The First Nation must annually prepare a document entitled “schedule of remuneration” that details the remuneration paid by the First Nation or by any entity that it controls, as the case may be, to its chief and each of its councillors, acting in their capacity as such and in any other capacity, including their personal capacity.
The minister indicated that this was just about whatever this entity may pay a chief and councillors. However, that is not as clear as it could be, and it still does not solve the issues around the impact this may have on business relationships.
In sum, there are a couple of very key points in this piece of legislation that certainly raise concerns.
The minister mentioned the Assembly of First Nations in one of his responses. Back in January 2006, the Assembly of First Nations put together an “Accountability for Results” position paper. It outlined a number of principles that, working in conjunction with the federal government, would have helped bolster the accountability and transparency piece.
Part of that was based upon work that the Auditor General had done, which set out five principles: clear roles and responsibilities, clear performance expectations, balanced expectations and capacities, credible reporting, and reasonable review and adjustment.
The Assembly of First Nations and chiefs across this country have indicated a willingness to work with the government on accountability measures, but again, how were first nations included in the drafting of this piece of legislation?
In conclusion, on June 15 there was a press release from the minister saying that the government was strengthening fiscal management and accountability. This press release would indicate that the government already has the power to do many of the things that are included in this legislation, so the big question then becomes why the legislation is needed at this point in time.
It sounds to me as though it is continuing to play a game, saying first nations are not responsible and are not accountable. That is just simply not true.
Rather than bringing forward this piece of legislation that does not address some of the underlying problems with lack of adequate funding and lack of ability to develop some of that capacity, the government brings forward a bill that continues to play to a stereotype in this country.
I urge all members in this House to oppose the legislation.
Mr. Speaker, transparency and proactive disclosure are important goals for all governments, including first nations governments, and these are goals that the Liberal opposition supports.
The Conservatives have a duty to work with first nations to improve mutual accountability, not just impose made in Ottawa legislation.
First nations are willing partners on issues of governance but the government must stop treating them as adversaries. The Conservative government's recent decision to cut the National Centre for First Nations Governance is hardly a promising start.
Despite the rhetoric at the recent Crown-First Nations Gathering about resetting the relationship, the Conservative government has shown a total disregard for the rights of indigenous people.
The Supreme Court of Canada established that both federal and provincial governments have a duty to consult aboriginal peoples before making decisions that might adversely affect their aboriginal rights and, in some circumstances, accommodate aboriginal peoples concerns.
Further, we must not forget that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada signed, obliges Canada to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples for matters affecting rights, territories and resources.
The government now defends its lack of progress toward implementing the declaration by claiming that it is merely aspirational in nature.
Now the Conservative government is imposing major changes to first nations financial reporting requirements with no significant prior consultation with those who will have to implement these changes.
The government has used the same flawed approach on drinking water and on matrimonial real property.
The government did not hold any discussions on the specifics of these bills with stakeholders, never mind the opposition, before tabling them.
We have seen the Conservative government explicitly exclude aboriginal participation from their government's hunting and angling advisory panel despite the fact that they are the only Canadians with constitutionally protected hunting and fishing rights.
The Conservative government is a government that seems to have a pathological aversion to consultation with those impacted by their decisions.
When major changes to employment insurance and health care were recently introduced, it was done without any prior consultation with provincial governments, leaving them to sort out major structural changes in their jurisdictions with no federal-provincial dialogue.
When the announced major changes to our pensions, he did so to a foreign audience without having raised it during the federal election only months before or discussing the proposals with experts, stakeholders or Canadians.
The government’s approach violates the crown’s constitutional duty to consult with first nations before changing laws or policies that affect first nations people, institutions and rights.
The previous Liberal government worked with first nations to develop a broad-based and comprehensive mutual accountability framework. This framework was included in the Kelowna accord, which the Conservatives tore up in 2006. The accord established a first nations auditor general, an independent body funded to oversee the accountability framework. This was broadly supported by aboriginal people. It was creative. It was the way forward in terms of building accountability and transparency. The Conservatives cancelled this initiative in 2006.
First nations funding arrangements are currently subject to annual allocations, changing program parameters and reporting obligations, as well as unilateral realignment, reductions and adjustments. We lack a legislative framework for predictable federal fiscal transfers based on the actual cost of delivery of services.
This will require transforming the fiscal relationship with the federal government to respect first nations rights and appropriately align responsibilities. Any effort to improve accountability and transparency must be mutual and should include both enabling provisions for a first nations auditor general and a commitment by the federal government to be accountable for its spending on first nations programs.
Bill does nothing to streamline the current overwhelming reporting burden, especially for small first nations with limited administrative capacity.
The Auditor General has repeatedly called for meaningful action to reduce unnecessary first nations reporting requirements that shift limited capacity from community programs.
In her 2002 report, the Auditor General recommended that the federal government should consult with first nations to review reporting requirements on a regular basis and to determine reporting needs when new programs are set up. Unnecessary or duplicative reporting requirements should be dropped.
As recently as June 2011, the Auditor General reported government progress toward achieving this needed rationalization as unsatisfactory. The government has failed to make meaningful progress on this issue.
First nations provide a minimum of 168 different financial reports to the 4 major funding departments: INAC, Health Canada, HRSDC and CMHC. That is three per week. The majority of these communities have less than 500 people. AANDC alone receives 60,000 reports from first nations annually as a requirement under existing funding agreements. Legislation that adds additional reporting requirements for first nations must also deal with this overwhelming and often outdated and unnecessary burden of existing reporting requirements.
As I have indicated, the Liberals fully support the principle of proactive disclosure of financial information for first nations chiefs and council to band members. Clearly, cases of first nation citizens being denied access to this information are unacceptable and it may be that existing legislation provisions should require proactive disclosure.
However, as the courts have ruled, this right of access to information does not extend to the general public. Therefore, the proactive disclosure provisions in this legislation must be changed so they provide proactive disclosure to first nations citizens alone.
There are existing models from first nations that already have strong governance models which can be adopted. There are examples of bands that are already proactively disclosing financial statements on password protected websites. These are the types of creative solutions that result from thorough two-way consultations when the government does not just speak but listens and internalizes what stakeholders have to say.
Bill would force first nations to disclose financial information related to band-owned businesses to all Canadians, not simply remuneration paid out of federal grants and contributions. This is inconsistent with the principles of first nations self-government and contravenes the Privacy Act, as well as a ruling by the Federal Court.
This measure could potentially make band-owned businesses vulnerable to predatory practices, and put them at a competitive disadvantage.
I am very concerned about the double standard that would be applied under this legislation. Non-aboriginal private corporations are not forced to publicly disclose consolidated financial statements. This could very well defeat the government's stated goal of stimulating economic development on reserves, as my colleague from has said.
I will also point out that paternalistic lectures about accountability are a little rich coming from the Conservative government. It is a government that has decided to rule by ideology, blind to facts, blind to the reality of everyday Canadians and free from accountability offered by access to reliable statistics. To facilitate this, it has muzzled scientists, bullied non-governmental organizations and slashed programs focused on gathering and analyzing evidence-based data.
In the 2006 election, the Conservative Party of Canada was fined by Elections Canada for overspending its campaign limit by $1.3 million and to have tried to inappropriately collect $800,000 from taxpayers in rebates.
In 2011, Conservative senators, Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein, as well as senior campaign officials, Michael Donison and Susan Kehoe reached a plea deal for misleading Elections Canada. It also seems increasing likely that there was a coordinated effort to keep Canadians from the polls last year. Elections Canada is currently investigating these allegations.
The is now facing a serious investigation by Canada's independent election authority for spending irregularities. The same individual is shockingly the government's spokesperson on election fraud. So much for accountability.
What about transparency? Canada's Information and Privacy Commissioners have publicly stated that while other nations are moving toward more open and accountable federal governments, our government remains one of the most unaccountable and secretive in Canada's history.
Bill , the recently passed 425-page budget implementation bill, amends over 70 different acts and could end over 50 years of environmental oversight in Canada. Not only were these changes put forward without proper consultation, they were pushed through Parliament in a way to circumvent democratic scrutiny.
First nations have little to learn about accountability and transparency from the government.
As I have stated, the Liberals support the underlying goals of the legislation but are very concerned about how it was brought to the House.
The bill, as written, is inconsistent with the principle of first nations self-government.
It is inconsistent with the new approach to relations between the Government of Canada and first nations which was supposed to have resulted from the residential schools apology in 2008.
It is inconsistent with the Conservatives' belated and half-hearted support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 's commitment at the Crown-First Nations Gathering to reset this relationship.
We also have deep concerns about some of the unintended consequences of the impact on local capacity and first nations owned businesses. This legislation will need significant improvements and much further consultation with first nations.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill .
I would like to thank the for his support of my private member's Bill in the last Parliament and for his continued interest and leadership in the area of first nations financial transparency and accountability. When I introduced Bill in the last Parliament, I received overwhelming support for my private member's bill from both first nations community members and Canadians across the country.
If there has been a consistent theme running through our policies and programs with regard to aboriginal affairs since forming government, it is to support aboriginal people in achieving economic success so they can maximize the benefits of self-sufficiency and prosperity.
Since 2006, this goal has been emphasized in every throne speech, as was powerfully reinforced most recently in the 2011 Speech from the Throne. It committed the Government of Canada to support transparency for first nations communities by requiring chiefs and councillors to publish their salaries and expenses.
Being certain that a first nation government upholds standard accounting procedures and sound business practices is vitally important to potential investors in first nations communities. In fact, one of the most compelling reasons to support this legislation is its potential to have a positive impact on first nations economic development.
Transparency builds trust, and trust is integral to building strong relationships. Once it is clear how a community manages its money and how it accounts for expenditures, businesses interested in pursuing joint ventures will have greater confidence that they can count on a first nation to be a reliable and responsible partner.
The requirements under Bill would enable first nations to demonstrate best practices in their financial operations. This is crucial to create an environment conducive to investment. Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation also agrees with this concept, and said:
Transparent and accountable First Nation governments support a strong environment for investment leading to greater economic development.
If a first nation can inspire confidence among prospective investors, it can attract economic development, leading to greater self-reliance and a better standard of living for its members. That is the ultimate goal of Bill .
However, the immediate objective of first nation members is simply to find out how their leaders spend the first nation's money and how much money chiefs and councillors are receiving for their services.
As other speakers have already explained, there have been repeated calls for greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the remuneration of chiefs and councillors. Accountability is a fundamental principle of Canadian political life.
Certainly some first nations governments already make this financial information readily available to their community members, but current practice related to disclosure is inconsistent. In some cases, first nation governments only make available information on spending and reimbursement of expenses when requested to do so. Others refuse their members access to financial information, forcing people to turn to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to have this information released.
First nations band members should not have to ask to find out what their elected representatives are earning. It should be publicly available information, just as it is for all other elected officials across the country. Other Canadians are not asked to tolerate such a situation, and first nation members should not be asked to do so either.
First nations are already obligated to produce audited consolidated financial statements and details about chief and councillors' pay, as has already been noted, and submit them to the federal government as a condition of their funding agreements.
However, at the moment, there is nothing in law requiring first nations governments to provide this information to their members or when and how it should be disclosed. This uncertainty, coupled with the shear unavailability of information in so many cases, is unfair to first nations members. It is patently undemocratic. Equally worrisome, it can be a major deterrent in attracting potential private sector investment opportunities.
The first nations financial transparency act would enhance transparency and certainty, making reporting requirements mandatory. It would open up a first nation's books so its members could see how funds were used by their government. Following the passage of this proposed legislation, there will be a consistent, reliable, predictable and transparent approach to disclosing such information. The bill clearly places the accountability on first nations governments to release information about financial compensation to elected representatives in a manner similar to that of other governments across Canada.
Under Bill , band councils would be required to prepare audited, consolidated financial statements each year. These documents would be accompanied by a schedule of remuneration paid to chiefs and councillors, would make this information available to members of their community and would publish these documents on a website.
The proposed act also requires the to publish the same information on the department's website so it can be easily accessed in one location for the information of all Canadians, including potential investors.
Making audited, consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration widely available will also help to promote investment on reserves. Anyone looking for strong first nation partners for financial ventures will be able to access basic financial information from a single source. Strong, capable and accountable first nations governments will be in a position to attract business investments that will lead to increased economic development and job creation in first nations communities.
It is hard to imagine how anyone could argue with that. Anyone taking an objective look at the facts can only conclude that Bill is equally good for first nations members, their local governments and Canada's business community.
Therefore, I call on all members of the House to get behind this very necessary and beneficial act. Not only first nations members but all Canadians are counting on parliamentarians to do exactly that.
I move therefore:
That this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished colleague, the member for .
It gives me great pleasure to speak to the bill so that the government can hear again how wrong-headed its approach is, not just for Bill , but for much of what it has been hanging its hat on lately.
At the outset, the bill is unnecessary in that it ignores some simple ways to address the problems it seeks to solve. Bill C-27 is overly punitive and amounts to a real waste of valuable and much needed funds by duplicating efforts and increasing the bureaucratic burden on those first nations that do not already have self-governing regimes. It sets the course for costly legal battles and ignores the advice of the Auditor General to reduce the reporting burden placed on first nations. Worst of all, the bill was created without the consultation or involvement of first nations.
Bill is similar to a private member's bill the government is championing these days. The member just spoke to that. Bill is similar in that it seeks to force other bodies and organizations to do what the Conservative government is so thoroughly incapable of doing, which is to behave in a publicly accountable and transparent fashion. It is nothing short of ironic that we are debating the bill in the shadow of the ominous Trojan Horse budget bill, a budget that amounts to a leap of faith when put to the same test that Bill C-27 would force on to first nations.
We have just witnessed the government throttle the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer by refusing to provide the information needed for that office to report to parliamentarians in the manner that we have asked of him, in the manner that the Conservatives supported as opposition members and so thoroughly frustrate now that they are in government. We all welcomed how accountability and transparency were to be the hallmarks of the government and yet those principles are more notable by their absence than anything else when it comes to its actions.
The Accountability Act was the Conservatives' first piece of legislation after replacing the tired and corrupt Liberal Party in government. Only six years later, it is nothing more than a shell of broken ideals crushed under the weight of parliamentary bullying, influence peddling, lobbyists and allegations of electoral fraud.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: That is the NDP.
Mrs. Carol Hughes: The member from the other side is chastizing me. Obviously, we can see that those members know full well that we are talking about them and how awful they have been.
The Conservatives are setting out to force first nations to do what they themselves refuse to do. They are seeking to impose standards that are greater than those applied to politicians in many other elected jurisdictions in a way that creates more bureaucracy without really increasing accountability of first nations governments to their communities.
These standards and the costs associated with them are even more unrealistic when one considers the entirety of the circumstances, especially the recent budget cuts to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
We also cannot ignore the narrow scope of talking points that are the driving force behind this legislation. The maxim that worse case scenarios make bad legislation should be considered as we debate Bill . Time and again we hear about a handful of overpaid first nations politicians, which leads to assumptions that are based far more on opinion than fact. Those scenarios, while unfortunate, are in no way among the most pressing the government faces with respect to our first nations communities. However, we are debating an unnecessary piece of legislation instead of working on ways to address more pressing needs, and that is a shame.
From the outset we know there is a problem because the intention of the bill is to duplicate something that already exists. To hear proponents of the bill speak, one would think that first nations report nothing about the funding they receive or the salaries and compensation provided to their leadership, when we know the opposite is true.
First nations produce year-end reports that include annual audited consolidated financial statements for the public funds provided to them. These reports include salaries, honoraria and travel expenses for all elected, appointed and senior unelected band officials.
First nations are also required to release statements to their membership about compensation earned or accrued by elected, appointed and unelected senior officials, and the amount of remuneration paid, earned or accrued by elected and appointed officials, which must be from all sources within the recipient's financial reporting entity, including amounts from economic development and other types of business corporations.
That is not being made widely known or acknowledged by the government. Instead, it is imposing a bill that goes out of its way to force a different method of financial reporting and the costs associated with that onto first nations.
The New Democrats do not share the government's view on the urgency of this issue. We believe that Bill must be considered in the context of the June 2011 findings of the Auditor General, which stated that despite repeated audits recommending numerous reforms over the last decade, the federal government had failed abysmally to address the worsening conditions for first nations.
That report tells us that the money just is not flowing to the problems but that it is not for lack of audits or reporting processes.
The Auditor General pointed out that the reporting burden on first nations had actually worsened in recent years despite that office's repeated calls to reduce the reporting burden. Worst of all, the findings showed how many of the reports were not even used by federal government departments and were not serving anything but bureaucratic processes. They are white elephants and the government is eagerly seeking to increase them.
This is a non-turn in the road for a government that has said that it is so dead set against red tape. Perhaps it is only red tape when it frustrates the goals of its main lobbyist friends and not so much when it comes to frustrating the efforts of people it does not spend as much time with.
However, the New Democrats are convinced that changes to how audited statements are presented to first nations do not need heavy-handed legislation. Any changes deemed necessary could be a requirement of funding arrangements that the department has each first nation government sign. We are concerned that this bill not only ignores the simple solution but is overly punitive as well.