Mr. Speaker, thank you for this opportunity on behalf of the constituents of the great Kenora riding to speak, hopefully, for the last time to this piece of legislation before it moves on to the other place and receives royal assent.
I am proud to rise today to once again explain the need for Bill and to talk about its many benefits.
Before I do, as a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I want to thank all those who appeared before the committee during recent hearings. Their contributions have made this legislation better and stronger.
The committee heard from a number of witnesses, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, who spoke to the need for Bill . They recognized that increased transparency and accountability will empower first nation members and their governments.
As do all Canadians, first nation community members want assurances that public funds are being used to improve their communities. They expect and deserve sound management practices from their elected leadership, as well as access to the information necessary to ensure that these leaders are acting in their best interests and priorities. Bill simply puts in place the same types of rules with respect to financial transparency that already apply to other levels of government in Canada. Why should first nations expect or have anything less?
Further, publicly accessible information will also boost investor confidence and create a better business environment for private sector investment on reserve. This will inevitably lead to increased economic opportunities that will help to create the conditions for healthier and more self-sufficient first nation communities.
Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation said it best when he stated:
You drive through my community, you'll see all the paved roads, paved streets, the good quality of life that my people, my members enjoy.... That's what good accountability brings to a community.
It is worth noting that the bill is entirely consistent with the resolution passed by first nation leadership at the Assembly of First Nations' Special Chiefs Assembly in December of 2010, where the chiefs committed to “Choose to lead by example and demonstrate to other orders of government processes for accountability”, which included:
Itemizing and publicly disclosing salaries, honoraria and expenses associated with the operations of Chief & Council;
Ensuring information about community finances and decision-making is easily accessible, and available via the internet where applicable.
That sounds a lot like the wording, spirit and intent of the bill.
Currently, there is no legislative requirement for transparency and accountability from first nation leadership. Under current funding agreements, first nation community members can ask for band-related financial information from their elected leaders, but there is no legislated obligation on the part of the administration to release it. We know that many first nations are already making their financial information public voluntarily. We appreciate that. I think it goes to reducing the amount of suspicion and political turmoil at the community level. However, not all first nation communities are doing this.
When individuals are refused information from their band council they often come to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to ask for the information to be released to them, as we have heard from various witnesses appearing before the standing committee. Some regional offices of the department receive as many as 25 to 30 informal requests each year from first nation members seeking this basic information, which would be readily available to any other constituent or any other Canadian in any other jurisdiction
At committee Phyllis Sutherland, president of the Peguis Accountability Coalition, told committee members about her community. They were unable to access salary and other financial information about their elected band officials. She in fact cited several cases where members were subject to intimidation. She insisted that this type of intimidation must stop and that those in power must be held accountable.
Similar concerns were raised in testimony by Joseph Quesnel, a policy analyst with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He presented research data culled from the Aboriginal Governance Index developed by the centre, which revealed that 77% of the first nation members surveyed agreed that salary information for elected officials should be made public and be accessible. However, 25% say this information is not available to their band members.
In addition to the requests for documents, the department also receives allegations and complaints regarding potential mismanagement or the misappropriation of band funds and remuneration of its elected officials. Since January 2011, there have been 1,450 such complaints.
The important point is not how many requests the department receives each year for salary information—although there are many—it is the fact that from this government’s perspective, even one request is one too many. Members must go to the department for information that should be coming directly from their own first nation. The minister would prefer not to be involved in issues that should be resolved by the community itself.
Bill removes the minister from the equation by ensuring this financial information is easily accessible to everyone who wants it. It creates a direct line of accountability between first nation leaders and their members.
The concern about accountability extends beyond government and first nation members to investors who might be deterred by a lack of reliable financial data. Bill would help address this problem by requiring first nation governments to publish annual audited consolidated financial statements, as well as a schedule of chiefs' and councillors' salaries, remunerations and expenses. Clear and consistent publication under Bill would provide potential investors with a snapshot of a community's financial situation and may lead to further opportunities for partnership and investment.
There has been misinformation spread about the bill by the opposition who opposes our government's efforts to support economic growth, investment and job creation through more accountable and transparent government. I would like to take this opportunity to clear up the misconceptions and explain what Bill would do.
First, the legislation would not set salary levels for chiefs and councillors. It would remain the first nation's responsibility to set the appropriate level of remuneration for its elected officials. The proposed act would simply ensure that financial information is disclosed to the public. This would provide band members with the information they need to hold their leadership to account. They can then use that information to determine whether funds are being spent for the benefit of the community and whether compensation levels are reasonable and appropriate.
Second, I want to make clear that the act would not require individual businesses owned by the band to publish their detailed financial statements. Rather, Bill would only require the publication of the first nation's audited consolidated financial statements. These financial statements would include any entities that, according to generally accepted accounting principles or GAP, are to be consolidated with the first nation in its financial statements, including most band-owned businesses. However, information relating to government business enterprises would be highly aggregated and would not be revealing any details that would undermine the competitiveness of their businesses.
I want to underline that this is a standard accounting principle. This rule applies to all other government-owned businesses across Canada. We are not asking anything different of first nation communities than we do of any other business or community in Canada.
As members of Parliament, we all fully disclose our salaries and special allowances to the public, as required by the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act. Not only that, but the Federal Accountability Act of 2006 has also increased the public's access to information about its government's activities and those of its members. Anyone interested in any of this data can find it without even asking. Similar laws are in place at the provincial and territorial level and most of those governments have adopted legislation requiring municipal governments to make these documents public as well.
Equally important, there is nothing in this legislation that would create any additional paperwork for first nation governments. They already produce consolidated financial statements each year, which are audited by independent accredited professional auditors. It is a requirement of their funding agreements with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
The legislation simply ensures that some of the critical documents which are already submitted to the department as part of a first nation’s funding agreement are made publicly available. This bill does not ask for anything new, except greater transparency to members.
To be clear, all that Bill would do is to require first nation governments to meet the same standards. They are the only governments in Canada that do not currently provide this basic level of information to the public, and this bill would fill that legislative gap.
As members can see, we are not proposing radical measures, nor are they onerous in terms of their additional reporting requirements. We have made every effort to make it easy for first nations to comply with this law.
It has been pointed out, for example, that not all first nations have websites. However, the bill fully addresses this point. A first nation will not be required to have its own website as a result of the legislation. If a first nation is not able to publish the information electronically itself, it can ask another organization it is a member of to post it on the community's behalf. Alternatively, the first nation could ask Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to post the information on its behalf.
Of course, it is important to recognize that having these documents published on a website does not fulfill a first nation government's obligation to make copies of financial statements available to its members. Again, many of them already do this by either distributing printed copies to households or making information available in band offices. We heard at committee instances of where a number of communities actually host a forum, somewhat akin to an annual general assembly of its members, where they review these documents.
I also want to reinforce that there have been numerous opportunities to discuss and improve this legislation, first in the context of private member's Bill introduced in the previous Parliament, and now in the context of Bill .
Over the course of the committee's review of the bill, we heard concerns about how certain sectors of the text might be interpreted. These concerns focused on the language of the bill in two key areas: first, the need to report information relating to remuneration and reimbursement of expenses separately; and second, the treatment of band-controlled entities. I am pleased to say that we have listened to the concerns raised by first nations and have introduced amendments to clarify the relevant language of the bill to address these concerns. That is a process that took place at committee.
With respect to the reporting of remuneration and expenses, the original text of the bill combined the concepts of salaries and expenses into a single definition of remuneration. Although it was not the intention of the bill, we heard from witnesses that this could be interpreted to suggest that these two amounts could be reported and disclosed to the public as one aggregate figure. To make things clearer and for greater certainty, the amendments split these two concepts into two separate definitions for the purposes of the legislation, and the schedule of remuneration has been re-named in the text of the bill to “schedule of remuneration and expenses”.
As it relates to the treatment of band-owned businesses, the intention of the bill has always been to put into legislation the same practices with respect to the treatment of band entities as are currently in place in the funding agreements. We believe it is important for the users of financial statements, especially first nation members, to see summary statements that capture the activities of their government and elected officials.
The entities to be included and the manner in which their financial information is presented will be determined by the standards set out by the Public Sector Accounting Board of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. This will ensure that the standards applying to businesses owned by other governments in Canada will also apply to first nation governments in precisely the same way.
The government worked hard to find language that strikes a balance between the need for precision and certainty in legislative drafting and complex accounting concepts. At committee we adopted an amended definition of consolidated financial statements that makes these points clear. These improvements resulted in some other small amendments but do not detract from the original intent of the bill. The only thing that has changed is the wording, which has been adjusted for clarity, greater certainty and to eliminate any confusion.
First nations people have been waiting a long time for the measures proposed in Bill . They should not be asked to wait any longer for this bill to come into effect.
It was first introduced on November 23, 2011, and there has been ample time devoted to discussing views and concerns regarding this legislation. It was debated for almost six hours during second reading debate before being referred to committee, which met seven times to study and discuss Bill .
During that time the committee heard from 21 witnesses from 13 different organizations. These witnesses came from a variety of organizations including the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada, and representatives from individual first nations communities.
During report stage, the House spent over six hours of debate on this bill. The NDP has had no less than 20 speakers, yet we heard no new issues raised by the opposition in all that time. In fact, one thing that we did hear was one member from across the way saying that he wanted to see one rule for all. It is great news that a member from the NDP would say that, because that is exactly what this bill strives to accomplish.
For this legislation to apply in the next fiscal year, it must come into force on or before March 31, 2013. This legislation is long overdue and will bring first nation governments in line with virtually all other governments in Canada. Our government believes that first nations people have waited long enough. We think this legislation should apply to the next fiscal year, 2013-14. This means that the publication of first nations' financial statements and salaries and expenses could occur as early as July 2014.
I am very proud of this legislation. I believe firmly that first nations deserve and expect the same level of transparency and accountability as all Canadians. The first nations financial transparency act would make that happen.
Bill will also reassure potential investors that they can safely enter into joint financial agreements, joint ventures and business undertakings with first nations. The resulting jobs and economic growth will contribute to social and economic improvements in the lives, the livelihoods and the communities of first nation members.
In short, Bill is a landmark bill that is worthy of the support of all parties. I urge all members of the House to give it their full support and vote unanimously in support of this bill.
Mr. Speaker, before I launch into my speech, there are a couple of points that the parliamentary secretary raised that I have to comment on. First of all, part of the problem the House is facing is that the Conservative government fails to recognize a government-to-government relationship. That is a fundamental principle underlying the opposition to this particular piece of legislation.
The member talked about consultation. However, if the Conservatives truly support the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which they claim they do, they would look at section 19 that talks about free, prior and informed consent. First nations from coast to coast to coast are saying there has not been free, prior and informed consent on this piece of legislation.
There is another point around this. I would absolutely agree, everyone in the House agrees and first nations agree, that there does need to be accountability and transparency. However, it is how it happens that is critical to this conversation. We have seen the government, once again, unilaterally impose its vision of what accountability and transparency looks like.
The parliamentary secretary quoted a 2010 resolution from the Assembly of First Nations. I want to quote from a paper from 2006, where the Assembly of First Nations was calling on the Conservative government to work with first nations from coast to coast to coast in developing this kind of accountability and transparency. The Assembly of First Nations had a detailed position paper, which also included the suggestion that:
[First nations-led and first nations-specific institutions] will be needed, as First Nation citizens must be empowered to hold both their local governments and the Government of Canada to account. Such institutions include an Ombudsperson's office, so that individuals have a trusted venue to pursue accountability concerns outside of either the local or federal governments. They would also include a First Nations Auditor General who could both provide ongoing advice to assist FN governments in providing accountability and, at the same time, improve accountability by exposing problems and recommending solutions.
In 2006, first nations had a solution to deal with this. Six years later, we do not have to be dealing with a piece of legislation that is being unilaterally imposed by the Conservative government.
I am not going to go over the full details of the bill because we have now spoken about it a number of times in the House. However, the bill would essentially require audited annual consolidated financial statements; a separate annual schedule of remuneration which would include what is paid to the first nations, and any entity controlled by the first nations, its chief and each of its councillors; an auditor's written report respecting the consolidated financial statements; and an auditor's report respecting the schedule of remuneration.
Also, as members have already pointed out, there are some punishments if there is a failure by the first nation to comply, such that any first nation member may apply for a court order to the Superior Court; any person, including the minister, may apply for a court order to the Superior Court; and, the minister may develop an appropriate action plan to remedy the breach, which could include withholding funds or terminating a funding agreement.
I neglected to say at the outset that we will continue to oppose the bill rigorously. We did propose a number of amendments to try to improve the bill, including deleting some of the more egregious clauses, but those amendments were not supported.
In an article from iPolitics entitled “...the government's hollow embrace of transparency” the author says that “...its call for greater financial disclosure rings hollow coming from a government which is failing the transparency test itself”. Of course, it was welcomed to hear the parliamentary secretary talk about embracing the one rule for all. Perhaps the government will now cough up details on some of these following items that have been identified.
The article goes on to say:
Unfortunately, back in Ottawa, the federal government is also proving to be far more opaque than accountable.
In 2011...the interim auditor general, blasted the Conservatives for spending on the 2010 G8/G20 summit. Quoted in the National Post, [he] said: “Rules were broken. Lawyers could have an interesting debate as to whether any laws were broken.” [He] criticized the government for having no supporting documentation for the selection of 32 projects in the [gazebo] riding.
In 2012, Auditor General Michael Ferguson took the government to task over its failure to disclose the true cost of purchasing 65 F-35 fighter jets. According to Ferguson, the cost of acquiring the planes over their 20-year life cycle was not $15 billion, as the government claimed, but $25 billion.
That estimate was closer to one made in 2011 by Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page. After Ferguson's report, Page told CBC Radio’s Evan Solomon that it appeared that one set of books was available inside the Department of National Defense, while another was presented publicly by the government “for communication purposes.”..
Page, of course, made more headlines this week when he filed a reference application with the Federal Court of Canada to gain access to details of the federal government's austerity measures, which have so far been denied to his office.
This is the context we are working in. On the one hand, the government is saying to first nations chiefs and councils that they must be more accountable than almost any other government in the country. On the other hand, it will not produce basic fundamental documents to tell the Canadian public how it is spending its money. It seems to me that this inconsistency needs to be addressed before we move forward with Bill .
I want to quote a law professor. I know many will be interested in this because she is not just a law professor, but former chief Judith Sayers. She is the national aboriginal economic development chair and the assistant professor of business and law at the University of Victoria. Also, she was formerly a chief of her nation. Therefore, she has a very good grasp of the situation that is facing first nations.
In her letter to the standing committee of November 20, 2012, she says:
To ensure First Nations members get copies of financial statements, provisions to do that could be placed into these funding agreements between AANCD and the First Nation.
She is proposing a solution instead of Bill . She is proposing that this clause be inserted into these agreements. She also said:
There could also be a process put in place that if a First Nation did not provide their members with Financial Statements within 120 days of the year end, that the members could go to the auditor’s office and receive copies. The First Nation would be required to put this in the letter of engagement with the auditor and compensate the auditor for costs of making copies of the audit. Legislation is not required to do this when agreements have dictated First Nation/AANDC fiscal relationships and this can continue to be the tool that can accomplish this.
She goes on to say that passing the law to make first nations provide their financial statements to their members is “not a step toward self governing Nations nor does it make them accountable, it only makes them compliant”. This is a key point because the government continues to claim that there will be a miracle that will occur when first nations are required to post their consolidated financial statements, that all of a sudden economic development will occur and there will be lots of accountability. That is simply not the case.
Ms. Sayers goes on to say that part of the problem with the bill is that it is not just money from the federal government, but from the first nations own source revenues, such as grants from organizations, provincial governments and any other entities.
The Federal Government does not have jurisdiction over moneys received from other sources and cannot compel the First Nation to be providing this information to the public.
She is outlining a legislative authority regarding providing financial statements and legal entities to the public. She says:
It is my submission that the federal government does not have authority to legislate with respect to any corporation, society or other legal body incorporated under provincial laws to provide financial statements to members of the First Nation and more problematically, to the public at large.
Then she quotes section 91(24) of the Constitution Act, which gives authority to the federal government over Indians and lands reserved for Indians.
The proposed Bill C-27 claims authority over an “entity” which means a corporation or a partnership, a Joint Venture of any other unincorporated association or organization. Any “entity” that is incorporated under provincial laws whether it is a Corporations Act or Societies act or Cooperative becomes a legal entity, an entity that cannot be considered an “Indian” over which the federal government has no jurisdiction.
That is an important point because the government is now stepping into territory that many first nations feel they have absolutely no authority over. She continues:
If First Nations are incorporating their businesses using provincial law as most do, the Federal government cannot then override the provisions of the provincial law.
Provincial Laws do not require that financial statements go to anyone other than the Directors and Shareholders of the corporation. In BC shareholders access to financial information is subject to the terms and conditions of what is set out in the articles of incorporation of the company. So in the instance where the members are shareholders, or have a trustee that holds the shares for them, the financial statements will be available to the members to see by virtue of provincial law.
It would be my submission that the Federal Government cannot define consolidated financial statements of the First Nation as “those of any entity that it controls that are presented as those of a single economic entity” if those entities are a legally incorporated society/corporation/cooperative, partnership, joint venture under provincial law.
I reiterate the fact that the government is now requiring the chiefs and councils to provide any income from these entities and that these entities would be aggregated in the consolidated financial statement. This associate professor of law is claiming that it is overstepping its jurisdiction.
In her conclusion, Ms. Sayers says:
I respectfully submit to this committee that Bill C-27 is not needed and if it does proceed to law, must be fully overhauled to narrow it to areas where the federal government has jurisdiction. First Nations will be challenging this legislation in court regarding this issue and since AANDC spends more than any other federal department on legal fees, this does not seem like a desirable course of action.
That is an opinion that the legislation is not required and oversteps federal jurisdiction.
I want to make a couple points about the testimony in the committee meeting of Wednesday, October 24, of Mr. Harold Calla, the chair of the First Nations Financial Management Board. He raised a point about audits, which is important. He says:
First of all, an audit is a look at history. It's a reactive statement, and it's not designed to be proactive in informing and supporting future decisions. While an audit is a necessary and important part of the overall financial management system, there are many other elements of a financial management system that should not be lost in this discussion.
All orders of government are accountable. Within the federal system, the need for an increased emphasis on oversight within budgeting and forecasting has been recognized as a best practice with the establishment of a parliamentary budget officer. This is an example of an evolving world and perspective of what practices and standards should become as part of the overall financial management system. Good financial management practices should not be defined solely by political objectives. Good financial management should be driven by the needs of all stakeholders and should inform them.
In the case of first nations, this should include the financial results of the transaction activity it undertakes for the delivery of programs and services that a first nation is mandated to deliver. Although an audit does contain notes, these notes are generally a clarification of financial facts. An audit does not make qualitative observations or recommendations, nor does it give a clear indication of future direction.
Mr. Calla went on to talk about an annual report. As he has pointed out, a consolidated financial statement is a retrospective. It talks about the money that has been spent in a bunch of different categories, but does not talk about the results that have been achieved with that expenditure of money. The government claims that it will open up economic opportunities, but that kind of analysis must be done about where money is spent and what results are achieved in order to get that financial snapshot.
One of the issues absent in the bill, and has been absent largely in the discussion, is what kinds of resources the federal government is providing to first nations in order to help them with capacity building. We have recently seen cuts to tribal councils and other aboriginal organizations, which are the very organizations that provide some of the capacity building and support. On the one hand, first nations would be required to do something in addition to what they already do. On the other hand, the government has cut the very services and program supports that could help them develop the economic capacity, which everybody knows is a step toward lifting first nations out of poverty.
Mr. Calla further says:
The purpose of measures that support financial reporting or being accountable and transparent should create confidence in all stakeholder groups in the financial...capacity of the entity and give an indication of their fiscal capacity. It is always better when stakeholder groups, in this case our communities, are able to establish the accountability and transparency framework that they wish to establish for their community...
It is best if communities pass their own laws and agree to independent oversight by third parties. This is the concept developed by the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act, and it is currently being explored by 58 of the approximately 100 first nations that have become scheduled under the act.
Once again, there are first nations that do an exemplary job and there are organizations that support this.
I want to quote Jean Paul from the Membertou First Nation who attended the same meeting. He says:
All the information required by the new act is already being provided by the first nations in Canada to AANDC, as per their existing funding agreements over years and decades. Only last year the issue was pushed to the forefront, and now a bill will require all first nations to comply or...AANDC will release the information, and as a last resort, all funding will be stopped.
Mr. Paul raises the question about whether anybody has examined the implications of taking funding away when many first nations are delivering essential services to their communities, which include water, housing, education and so on. That question also has not been addressed.
In an email from AFOA Canada, which again provides support to the financial officer, it says:
Having said all this, the overriding issue here is that only by stating the words “First Nations” within the proposed Bill C-27 and defining these words as per the Indian Act, the government is signaling out a specific group of Canadians. This is of concern because of the increased financial level of reporting and accountability required which includes the schedule of salaries, honoraria, travel and other remuneration. More is being asked of First Nations than other groups of Canadians. If First Nations are not recognized as governments, why are we even comparing them to other governments? And even if they were recognized as Governments in legislation (which they are not), there is a higher standard required upon First Nations within this Bill.
It is interesting because the parliamentary secretary and others have talked about the fact that this is the same standard that is applied to everybody. I will quote from the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons. Although we do have to declare if we have an interest or if we receive remuneration from another organization, under the content of our disclosure, it says “the source and nature, but not the value, of the income, assets and liabilities referred to in the Member’s statement filed under section 20”.
When it comes to contracts or subcontracts, it describes the subject matter and nature. It says, “The following shall not be set out in the summary: a source of income of less than $10,000 during the 12 months before the relevant date”. Once again we have a situation where first nations will be asked to report in a way that members of the House of Commons are not asked to report.
In an analysis that the Assembly of First Nations did on Bill , it indicated that there were several provincial governments in Canada that did not have the same kind of reporting requirements.
Nova Scotia's summaries of expenses of ministers are located at the Legislative Library for public viewing. The Government of Northwest Territories only publishes travel expenses of ministers and does not require salary disclosure of elected officials or senior public servants. Neither Yukon nor Prince Edward Island disclose salaries of elected officials.
The claim that first nations would have to comply with what every other level of government in Canada does is simply not true.
There have been issues raised around privacy. When the privacy commissioner came to the aboriginal affairs committee on October 31, she raised four key questions that needed to be answered. One was the measure demonstrably necessary to meet a specific need? Two was it likely to be effective in meeting that need? Three was the loss of privacy proportional to the need? Four was there less a privacy invasive way of achieving the same end?
This is a serious matter because we are asking first nations chiefs and councils to report in a way that many other entities are not required to report. Those four fundamental questions around privacy were never effectively dealt with. It was outside the scope for the privacy commissioner to make comments on particular legislation before the aboriginal affairs committee, but those are very serious issues that need to be addressed.
The fact that there has not been an appropriate consultation, that there are some serious questions that the consolidated financial statement, by including entities that are band owned, oversteps the authority of the government, that the privacy issues have not yet been adequately addressed and that the issues around the capacity building are not addressed in helping first nations ensure that they have the capacity to provide this information to their members, none of these issues are addressed adequately. Based on this, the New Democrats will oppose the bill at third reading.
Mr. Speaker, as I have stated in the House before, transparency and proactive disclosure are important goals for all governments, including first nations governments, and goals that the Liberal opposition supports. However, 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 the issues of governance. However, the government must stop treating them as adversaries; it must stop the paternalism; it must stop the raining down of legislation on first nations without any prior consultation; it must stop treating first nations as though they are children in need of discipline or adult supervision. The government must go back to the original understanding of a government-to-government relationship, as was stated in the Royal Proclamation, which will be 250 years ago next year.
The total lack of consultation on this bill is an insult. The government signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which insists upon free, prior and informed consent. The government now sees that as aspirational in nature and has put in absolutely no mechanisms to implement this declaration across government departments or even within the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It is very sad that again we stand in the House having to fight back against the kind of paternalistic approaches that do nothing to enhance the capacity of first nations in the country. Yet again, this is a tremendous example of insulting behaviour.
We are very concerned about the genesis of this legislation and its predecessor, which seems to be linked to the controversial report published by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation detailing salary figures of first nations chiefs. We say “misleading” salary figures of first nations chiefs. Then again, as we came to understand in the amendments, linking salary, expenses and the remuneration for band-owned businesses is actually a purposeful sticker shock that has fed into the stereotypes and is extremely damaging to the reputations of all first nations. It is particularly insulting to the first nations who are moving out and leading in terms of successful business enterprises.
The sensationalist report was shown to have contained inflated numbers and misleading calculations of remuneration for first nations elected officials. It reminds me, as a physician in Ontario, of the time when people were listing the fees taken by physicians, not bringing into account that we had to pay our rent, pay our staff, pay the costs of doing business out of that remuneration. It was misleading, as though it was income going directly to physicians.
The Canadian Bar Association has expressed concern that:
...debates that focus on such matters make an informed discussion about the realities of first nations governments difficult.
It has also stated that:
Rather than focusing on legislation that diverts attention from more pressing challenges facing First Nations governments, we encourage a nation to nation dialogue held in the light of constitutional principles.
The AFN has expressed concern that the federal government seems increasingly focused on designing first nations governance from Ottawa despite the fundamental need for first nations to undertake this work for themselves for it to be legitimate. As the member for articulated, this was beautifully done in the Assembly of First Nations discussion on governance and accountability in January 2006. We share those concerns about Bill .
Unfortunately, the government's decision to cut the National Centre for First Nations Governance and to slash the funding for tribal councils and other institutions, which are focused on building first nations capacity, is further undermining the ability of first nations to develop and implement accountability measures. The NCFNG will now be closing its doors early next year. It is hypocrisy to legislate accountability and transparency while cutting funding to the organizations, like the NCFNG, whose mandate is to support the process of nation rebuilding and self-government. How can the government justify imposing additional reporting duties, while at the same time cutting the resources first nations have to comply with these requirements?
While Bill is intended to improve the accountability and transparency of first nations governments to first nations citizens, the government failed to carry out its constitutional duty to consult with first nations on the drafting of this legislation or regarding government amendments during the committee stage. Unfortunately, this lack of consultation has resulted in a number of fundamental problems with this bill. The government must work with, not simply on behalf of, aboriginal peoples, as we promised to do in our original treaty relationship and as expressed to us by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Beyond its legal duties to consult, the government also has a moral duty to ensure that first nations are a part of the process to develop good policy that will work for them. However, with this bill the Conservative government would impose major changes to first nations financial reporting requirements with no significant prior consultation with those who would have to implement these proposed changes. One of the most shocking things we heard during the committee testimony was the fact that when the government went to the Whitecap Dakota First Nation to announce this bill, Chief Darcy Bear and his council were not permitted to see the bill in its final form. Chief Darcy Bear even wrote to his local Conservative MP and minister, expressing his concerns on December 11, 2011, stating:
I do wish to point out that when we were asked to endorse the new Bill we were only provided with the backgrounder on November 22, 2011. We did not receive a copy of the actual draft Bill until it was introduced in Parliament on November 23, 2011, which was after our press conference of that same day. We did not have the opportunity to review and analyze Bill C-27....
The chief went on to say:
I do wish to emphasize that we provided our endorsement of the new Bill C-27 based on our support for the former Bill C-575, for the reasons stated above.
The Whitecap Dakota First Nation went on to raise serious concerns about the scope and application of Bill . How does this kind of bait and switch approach, on an accountability bill of all things, facilitate trust and partnership with first nations?
The government has used the same flawed approach to manage the issues of drinking water and matrimonial real property. It does not consult the stakeholders, let alone the opposition, about the details of these bills before introducing them.
The government's approach violates its constitutional duty to consult first nations before making any changes to legislation and policies that affect first nations peoples, institutions and rights.
The government continued this pattern at committee, rejecting all opposition amendments out of hand and refusing to consult broadly on the few government amendments brought forward.
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 Conservatives tore up in 2006. It was creative. It was built on collaboration and it was the way forward in terms of building accountability and transparency.
First nations funding arrangements are currently subject to annual allocations, changing program parameters and reporting obligations as well as unilateral realignment, reductions and adjustments. Any effort to improve accountability and transparency must be mutual and should include a commitment by the federal government to be accountable for its spending on first nations programs.
As I have indicated, Liberals fully support the principle of proactive disclosure of financial information from first nation chiefs and councils to band members. Clearly, cases of first nation citizens being denied access to this information are unacceptable. However, we must look at the appropriate accountability relationship for the disclosure of this information.
First nation governments must be accountable to the members of that first nation, the people who elect them. Reporting requirements should be focused on making sure the members of a first nation have access to the appropriate information to hold their elected leaders accountable. Therefore, the proactive disclosure provisions in the legislation should apply to first nations alone. There are existing models from first nations that already have strong governance models, which can be adopted. For instance, there are examples of bands that already proactively disclose financial statements on password-protected websites. These are the types of creative solutions that result from thorough two-way consultation.
The bill also applies to first nations with financial administration laws made under the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act and this could lead to conflicting reporting requirements. The reporting of salaries and expenses, which the government admitted would have created confusion, was amended but still requires first nation leaders to include compensation in their personal capacity. This not only creates serious privacy concerns but also the possibility of misleading information being disclosed regarding first nation leaders' compensation.
Again, the government refused to listen to the expert testimony at committee and rejected opposition amendments on these issues out of hand.
Bill does nothing to reduce 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 nation 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.
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 four 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 over 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 the overwhelming and often outdated and unnecessary burden of existing reporting requirements. The practical requirements of the legislation have the potential to be unduly burdensome to first nations. For example, many communities are in remote areas, which impacts both their service delivery and operating expenses. Most communities do not have funding to build the infrastructure necessary for Internet access or the resource to create and maintain their own websites. Again, the government rejected opposition amendments to provide for alternative reporting options to band members.
I would also like to point out that paternalistic lectures about accountability are particularly insulting coming from the Conservative government. The is facing a serious investigation by Canada's independent election authority for spending irregularities and the is under a cloud regarding questionable election expenses during the last election. Both still have their jobs and so much for accountability.
What about transparency? Bill , a 425-page omnibus bill that amended over 70 different acts was rammed through Parliament last spring with no amendments and minimal debate. This fall, the government introduced yet another massive 443-page omnibus bill, tucking in changes to everything from exempting the Detroit-Windsor bridge from environmental laws, to changing the list of navigable waters, to changing the definition of aboriginal fisheries and rules for aboriginal land ownership. All indications are that the government will ram this mammoth bill through completely unchanged as well.
First nations have little to learn about accountability and transparency from the government when the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who the government enshrined in the 2006 Federal Accountability Act, now has to go to court to get the information he needs in order to do his job of reporting back to Canadians, members of Parliament and senators on what is going on with the government's spending.
The bill is inconsistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 's commitment at the Crown-first nations gathering to reset the relationship.
It is inconsistent with the new approach to managing relations between the Government of Canada and first nations that was supposed to have resulted from the residential schools apology in 2008.
As I have stated, Liberals support the underlying goal of the legislation, but we are very concerned about how it was brought to the House and how the lack of consultation and collaboration in its development has resulted in a fatally, fundamentally, flawed legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on this piece of legislation today.
There are those who argue that it is not necessary to enshrine transparency and accountability in legislation governing first nations' financial transactions. Those people appear to be content to let band officials decide whether they want to make available to members the information about how community funds are spent. They seem willing to leave such decisions to chance. Complaints by some first nation residents about their community leaders certainly seem to verify this observation, at least in certain cases. Nonetheless, I remind the House that we have heard disturbing tales about abuses of power.
For example, the Quebec resident Michael Benedict is a member of the Coalition of Abenaki Citizens for a Just, Transparent and Accountable Abenaki Government. He reported that:
My spouse and I have been harassed, my house vandalized and members of our local accountability organization have been intimidated for speaking out.
He went on to say:
Local elected officials were afraid we would empower Abenaki citizens to take a stand against abuse of power, misappropriation of public money and unavailability of information. C-27 will help improve transparency.
We have heard similar concerns in other parts of the country as well. For instance, Bev Brown of the Squamish First Nation has said:
When grassroots people request financial information from band council they are often threatened with support cuts from the band and are shunned in the community....
Like Michael Benedict, she believes that:
C-27 will help band members because it will allow them to view the material online and anonymously.
The problem boils down to this: Even though community members may ask for details about the remuneration of their chiefs and councillors, unless their leaders choose to release this information, there is no guarantee they will ever see it.
Now, one should not jump to the conclusion that this is the norm. Certainly, many first nations make every effort to provide this information to their community members. The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, which is forthcoming with this kind of financial information, is a case in point. There is no question that some band councils display these records on their websites while others provide details in householder mailings or post them in their bands' offices. For that, they should be commended.
However, it appears that this is not the practice followed by all. The fact is that every year the federal government receives complaints from first nation residents that they cannot find out what the salaries of their chiefs and councillors are, or the specific work they do to earn their pay. Nor is there any accountability regarding reimbursement of expenses for activities that sometimes are a complete mystery to community members. In fact, many first nation members do not get to see the community's audited consolidated financial statements at all.
In those cases, everything may in fact be above board and the salaries or other financial compensation being paid to first nation leaders may well be worth every last penny. However, unless the books are open for the community members to judge, there is simply no way to know if that is true.
Testimony at the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, of which I am a member, addressed the legislation earlier this fall and suggested that the examples I have cited are not isolated ones. Research data from the aboriginal governance index presented by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy indicates that 25% of first nations fail to provide financial information regarding salaries and expenses to their band members.
Admittedly, this is not the majority, but I am sure that all parties would agree, or certainly should agree, that one in four is very high. Indeed, even one such incident is one too many in a country that prides itself on being a democracy.
While compensation disclosure is basic information that is freely and easily available in all other jurisdictions in Canada, too many of the country's first nation leaders still refuse to make it available to their members. This is despite the fact that our country's chiefs have acknowledged the need to be more forthcoming.
I would remind my hon. colleagues that the Assembly of First Nations' chiefs passed a resolution at their special chiefs assembly in December of 2010 regarding financial disclosure. They affirmed the need to publicly release information regarding salaries and expenses to their members. They also agreed to make financial information available via the Internet, where applicable.
Just over half of the more that 600 first nations have their own websites. However, to date, very few have actually posted salary and remuneration information on the Internet. This does not suggest that all of the others have anything to hide, but it does confirm that good intentions do not automatically translate into good results. The current voluntary approach clearly does not always satisfy first nation members' right to know.
The assurance of a transparent, accountable, local government is the minimum that first nations members should expect in a democracy like ours. What first nations residents deserve and want is transparency and tangible information from their elected representatives when it comes to such issues.
Bill would ensure there are written, legal and binding guarantees that financial information will be freely and regularly released by first nation governments to local residents. The legislation would remove any opportunity to leave financial disclosure open to interpretation. It would put an end to the questionable practices of some leaders who think they do not need to account for their salaries and expenses, or for the way financial decisions are made. First nation governments are the only governments in Canada that do not currently have a legislated requirement to make this basic financial information public. The bill before us is designed to address that gap.
Once passed, the act would require all first nations not under a self-government agreement to publish the salaries and expenses they pay to their chiefs and councillors on an annual basis. This means that they would need to disclose things like wages, commissions, bonuses, fees, honorariums, dividends and any other financial or non-monetary benefits they may receive. The entire remuneration received by chiefs and councillors would be disclosed, not just a portion of their remuneration paid for from funds transferred by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. The proposed act also stipulates that information must be provided about spending related to transportation, accommodations, meals, hospitality and other expenses. I would note, however, that Bill would focus only on the political leaders of first nation governments. It would not apply to their appointed officials or senior staff.
The proposed legislation goes further than Bill , the private member's bill on which it is based. My hon. colleagues will recall that it died on the order paper when the last election was called. The new bill builds on the basic tenets of that earlier legislation, but goes further. Under Bill C-27, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada would also be required to publish the audited consolidated financial statements, as well as the schedule of remuneration for elected officials, for first nations all across Canada, as soon as the information is available.
It is expected that these records would also be made available in band offices, as well as be posted on their websites. As I know, not every first nation has a website. The community could request that another organization, such as a tribal council, a first nation organization, or even Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada itself, post the information on its behalf.
In addition, the new act would require that audited consolidated financial statements of first nation governments be prepared annually and disclosed to community members and the general public. The audited consolidated financial statements would include information related to any entities that, according to generally accepted accounting principles, are to be consolidated with the financial statements of the first nation, such as band-owned businesses.
Before anyone suggests that this could hurt those businesses' competitiveness, let me set the record straight. Bill would not require each individual business owned by the band to publish its detailed financial statements. All that is asked for is the publication of audited consolidated financial statements of the first nation as a whole. This would include entities that, according to accounting rules, are consolidated with the first nation, including band-owned businesses. This is simply standard accounting practice. These same principles and rules already apply to government-owned businesses all across Canada.
It is important to recognize that these statements are highly aggregated. Consequently, they would not be required to reveal any proprietary information that would undermine the competitiveness of a first nation's business or that of its partners. In fact, in response to concerns raised by witnesses appearing before the standing committee, the language of the bill has been amended to ensure it matches this spirit and intent.
I also want to be very clear about something else. We are not trying to create extra paperwork or to add red tape that might deter communities from attracting business development. Bill has been crafted so that no new reports are required. I repeat, no new reports are required. Do not forget that first nations are already required to produce annual consolidated financial statements audited by independent accredited professional auditors. As well, schedules of remuneration and expenses for the chiefs and councillors are a condition of their funding agreements with the federal government.
All that will change once the bill becomes law is that first nations will be legally obligated to share this information with the members of their bands. As I have already noted, many first nation elected officials already practice transparent and accountable reporting of their actions. Indeed, this is a requirement of self-government agreements, which explains why communities with signed agreements would be exempt from the act. However, those who have yet to demonstrate openness and willingness to be accountable to their communities and members must be held to the same standard and that is what the first nations financial transparency act would ensure.
Any concerns that first nation members have about how their communities' moneys are managed can be addressed if first nation governments meet this new accountability standard. This legislation is a win-win-win, no matter how one looks at it. Most essential is that Bill would make sure that first nation residents have access to the necessary information to make sound decisions about their leadership and their community's future. This goes to the very heart of a democratic society.
Equally important, it would enhance the confidence of all Canadians in first nation governments. Perhaps most promising is that his act would ensure potential investors that they can safely enter into joint financial agreements and business undertakings with first nations. This could lead to social and economic improvements in the lives and livelihoods of first nation members. When businesses create those kinds of opportunities, it opens up many new prospects for first nation members. It provides jobs and economic opportunities, which could make a real difference in many of these communities.
As the Winnipeg Free Press stated in an editorial about Bill on November 23:
The transparency law may not spark a revolution, but it will certainly enhance accountability and could lead to demands for more reforms, which are desperately needed to raise the living standards of Canada's first people.
That, at the end of the day, is really what the bill is all about. It would provide the legislative foundation upon which to build strong communities and strong economies to create a better quality of life for people living on reserve. What we are talking about here are those opportunities, the business prospects, the economic growth and the jobs that could be created. First nation members, indeed all Canadians, need Bill . This legislation would ensure that first nation community members can count on law and reason, rather than passion, when it comes to good government. They would have written assurance that they can hold their leaders to account.
Frankly, I cannot fathom why there would be any opposition to this reasoned and reasonable legislation. I, for one, am proud to stand behind this progressive act that would put an end to practices that are all too often denying first nations people the same access to fundamental financial freedom as other Canadians. The first nations financial transparency bill would guarantee that first nation residents would enjoy the same democratic rights as all other Canadians.
As I have already mentioned, many first nations already provide this information to their members. It is the same kind of information that is available to citizens across Canada. Certainly here in the House as members of Parliament and in the other place, our salaries are disclosed through the Parliament of Canada Act and through the Salaries Act. That legislation lays out a transparent formula that calculates our salaries and provides for the publication of those details, both for regular incomes and for special allowances that are added to the salaries of MPs who take on extra responsibilities. It is also subject to conflict of interest and ethics legislation.
The Government of Canada is not, by any means, the only jurisdiction that requires this disclosure. Many provinces across Canada require similar transparency and accountability. There are examples from Newfoundland and Labrador. That province has the Financial Administration Act, which permits the provincial legislature to table public accounts each year. In Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick there are similar laws as well.
Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta all have legislation governing the duty of municipalities to prepare and publish annual financial statements. Territorial governments also hold themselves to this standard. The Government of the Northwest Territories makes its annual financial statements readily available on its website. The Government of Nunavut, through its Financial Administration Act, requires the government to publicly account for its expenditures for the previous year by laying the public accounts before the legislative assembly.
Precise wording of transparency and accountability legislation obviously varies from province to province, but the fact remains that almost all Canadian taxpayers have a guarantee in law that they can access the basic financial information they require to hold their elected representatives accountable for their decisions and their actions. I think that is only to be accepted in a democracy.
The first nations financial transparency act would guarantee that first nation residents would enjoy the same democratic rights as all other Canadians. Bill would be good for first nation communities, it would be good for business and it would be good for democracy. For all these reasons, I encourage all parties to give the proposed legislation their full endorsement.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
I have the distinct honour of speaking against the bill on first nations financial transparency at third reading. This is a privilege for me because it allows me to put things in perspective.
My comments on this bill last week garnered some media attention. National and regional media outlets asked me for interviews. I also listened to some of my colleagues express their views on the subject. I have to wonder whether some of them are mechanical puppets—simply install updates using a USB key. Some of my colleagues expressed themselves in a machine-like, cold, inhuman and dehumanized way with no facial expression, not even a blink.
I carried out an analysis of what people said in the House and in the media. My background as a criminal defence lawyer served me well. I pinpointed a number of flaws that the government clearly finds irksome because it keeps trying to calm people down and smooth things over. When Conservatives talk to the media, those flaws come up right away and then the Conservatives immediately try to paper over them, downplay them and even mislead people.
What I am doing today is attacking. This is a principle that was instilled in me very early on. At the risk of repeating myself, I would like to say that, in 2007, when I joined the legal aid office, I worked on criminal cases. I travelled with the itinerant court. In 2007 alone, I dealt with close to 400 criminal cases and a few psychiatric cases. Since I was working for the defence, I learned very early on to find the flaws in the arguments of my opponents, the north shore crown prosecutors, who are very good. Sept-Îles has a team of six or seven, and they do very good work. This gave me the opportunity to practise over the years.
Since the prosecutor introduced the case and spoke first, I had the opportunity to take notes and analyze both the prosecutor's arguments and the testimony of the witness in order to find any flaws that I could bring up during cross-examination.
Here, there are clearly flaws. As is my habit and as I was taught by my employer at the time, François Wuellart from the legal aid office that is today located in Baie-Comeau—hello Mr. Wuellart—I am going to apply the principles that have been a great help to me to date and echo what has been said.
In the House, members can feel the tension gradually building when the accountability of first nations is discussed. The disorganization of the government's official statements in this regard and the questionable choice of messengers, who mechanically deliver talking points dictated by senior Conservative officials, have allowed me to see certain flaws that are clearly affecting the bill before us.
As I indicated earlier, my first instinct is to identify flaws. And I have identified them. I got a bit ahead of myself when I asked my colleague a question a few minutes ago. The flaw here is in our communities' economic bodies and in corporate vehicles.
The rules that apply to corporations must be the same across the country, if only for reasons of competitiveness. My colleagues should agree since they have repeatedly said that economic growth is key in Canada. They must therefore know that the rules that apply to corporations must be the same across the country. Otherwise, we are leaving ourselves open to major lawsuits, which are quite likely to be successful. That is what I want to talk about today.
I am fairly certain that communities across the country, and especially their lawyers, are taking notes as we speak. I am quite convinced that the talented lawyers working for some of these communities have already discovered this and, consequently, are already preparing their case, in the event that these measures are adopted.
We cannot extrapolate. However, I know very well that legal arguments are taking shape. I am just providing the ammunition.
I do not know if this was first done behind closed doors. However, having talked to some journalists, we know that when the Conservatives went before the media, they tried to assure the journalists that this bill, this legislative initiative, would not have any impact, and that there would not be any disclosure of the financial statements of entities in which a band council may have a stake. The Conservatives assured them that this would not happen and that the enterprises, that are the property of or in which community leaders may have an interest, would not be affected.
If we carefully examine the wording of the bill as introduced, we realize—and I want to emphasize this—that first nations are being held to account not necessarily just to their communities, but to the people of Canada. I will present arguments to prove this. We are talking about the transparency of first nations. But, the truth is that these measures will, in a roundabout way, expose entities within the communities.
Circumstances forced communities to develop their own rules and procedures all by themselves because they were isolated from the rest of the world. Aboriginal nations in Canada were left to their own devices for a very long time. That is why some communities adopted innovative and alternative initiatives to meet the needs of their people, measures tailored to the adversarial nature and subtleties of life on reserves.
That is why the rules for businesses and organizations on reserves differ significantly from the rules applied elsewhere in Canada. These businesses and organizations have their own particular dynamics. That is good for us because it is an example of economic diversity as it should be in Canada.
However, the Conservatives find this frustrating, as did their predecessors, because ultimately, few government agents can make inroads on reserves. There is a lot of resistance to clumsy, heavy-handed government interference. That is why reserves are observed from afar. There is evidence that, over the past year, government agents infiltrated communities to glean bits of information. That paints a pretty clear picture of the prevailing climate and the impenetrable nature of life on reserves.
I believe I have a properly substantiated opinion about what the government is trying to do with this bill: it wants to give groups in Canada with vested interests a close-up view of the economic dynamics of these communities. That is appalling and reprehensible because it suggests that, for all types of organizations across Canada, the government is bound by this financial information and must be accountable in terms of its crown corporations and others.
Things are not as easy on the ground as some think. Auditors deployed by the government cannot even get this financial information. I have just one minute left, which is a first for me, since I only ever speak for eight minutes.
I would like to focus on the issue that, according to my analysis, is the most problematic from a legal standpoint. I would like to comment briefly on a point that was mentioned before.
During the two years that I spent working as legal counsel for my own band council, Innu Takuaikan Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, I observed repeated attempts by provincial and federal authorities to interfere in the day-to-day life and economic systems of communities. That is truly reprehensible. That is why the government is at risk of being involved in major litigation, which I would support.
Mr. Speaker, I am experiencing a strong sense of déjà vu as I rise in the House to speak to Bill , which I also had an opportunity to speak to at second reading. However, I am rising one more time in the House, following my colleagues, to speak to what is imposed legislation and a failure to consult properly with first nations and to address the root challenges that they, as well as Canadians, would like to see addressed. This is yet another tool of division that the government is using to deflect from its own lack of accountability to the most marginalized group of people in our country. It is using that same tool to divide us and communities. That is a sad assessment of where the government is taking our country.
I will start by speaking as the member for Churchill, as someone who has the honour of representing 33 first nations in northern Manitoba, some of whom face incredible challenges. In fact, all of them face incredible challenges, whether in terms of access to health care, housing, education, infrastructure or employment. The list goes on and on, making for what many of us would say is a third world reality existing in Canada today.
Instead of working in partnership with first nations to be able to put an end to these third world living conditions and real challenges that first nations face in Canada, the government once again has chosen to impose its own top-down approach. Its approach is very much rooted in a colonial way of doing things, that the government knows best, that first nations do not need to be heard, that capacity and human and financial resources do not matter. Rather, all that matters are inflammatory press releases and the politics of division to deflect from what the real issues are. I find that fundamentally unjust and unbecoming of what the Canadian federal government ought to be doing.
Here I would point out that the question of accountability is very pressing for all Canadians, first nations, Métis, Inuit and non-aboriginal Canadians. Certainly, when visiting the first nations I represent, it is evident that people want to make sure that funds are used appropriately and that the right kind of investments are made. However, fundamentally we all know that listening to how first nations would best approach the issue of accountability is the way to go.
I would add that this discussion about accountability is not just happening in a vacuum. We have seen the same federal government dismiss the whole notion of accountability when it comes to itself. We recall the purchases of orange juice for $16 and the use of the Coast Guard for trips that clearly had no connection to any emergency situation. We know of investigations that have taken place and are taking place around electoral discrepancies involving donations. We have heard of ministers and certainly members of Parliament who fail to come clean when it comes to serious questions that we, the opposition, have with respect to the use of finances. Perhaps the best example is the omnibus budget bills. If the government were so interested in accountability and transparency, why would it not allow us to go through the serious changes it is proposing in these omnibus budget bills? If it really wanted to be a model in terms of accountability for all Canadians, then it would be using that same tough-on-accountability stand with itself.
This is the irony of the situation we face. Once again the Conservative federal government is keen to point at first nations and approach them with a patriarchal, top-down approach that is not suitable for a Canadian federal government after all we have learned over the last few decades. We are basically seeing the clock being rolled back on fair dealing based on a government-to-government relationship with first nations. This of course should be seen in the light of the fact that the himself made what he claimed to be a sincere apology to residential school survivors, that it would be a new day, that there would be a new way of doing things. All we have seen, however, is a breaking of that commitment, a breaking of that promise, and nowhere is that more clearly felt than among first nations themselves.
New Democrats believe that Bill must be considered in the context of the June 2011 findings of the Auditor General that despite repeated audits recommending numerous reforms over the last decade, the federal government has failed abysmally to address worsening conditions in first nations. In particular the Auditor General noted that the reporting burden on first nations has worsened in recent years. The Auditor General repeatedly recommended reducing the reporting burden, clearly understanding the demands on first nations and knowing that many of the reports are not even accessible.
All of this is to say that if the government only listened to the in-depth report by the Auditor General just over a year ago, we would not be in this situation. However, it is clear that the government takes issue with senior officers that Parliament ought to consult with. We have seen this in other areas. Facts and evidenced-based conclusions are certainly not what the government is interested in.
Raising the ire of aboriginal people is the government's way of dealing with things. Dividing people based on a notion of accountability that it cannot itself follow is the way the government chooses to move forward. That is fundamentally hypocritical.
The NDP does not support this bill. We believe that Bill does nothing to increase the accountability of first nation governments to their people. It also applies standards that are greater than those for elected officials in many other jurisdictions. I believe this is a very important point that many Canadians will not know about, thanks to the government's misinformation when it comes to this very bill.
I am sure that the government will criticize me and say that I opposed Bill and will not actually put out the facts as to why we in the NDP opposed it, because it is not interested in the facts. Instead, the government will riff off the politics of division and disrespect and, frankly, I am ashamed to say, the politics of hate.
When we are talking about the need to understand the double-standard that is being applied here, this notion that elected officials in other jurisdictions would have a lesser standard to live up to than first nation leaders is something worth considering. I would ask that the Conservative members think about that. I would also ask them to think fundamentally about the need to move on, to actually work with first nations to address the serious issues they face, including the desire for accountability, but in an appropriate way, and to address the third world living conditions that aboriginal people face in Canada.
That is when a federal government would actually be providing leadership, and if it is not willing to do it, then the NDP is willing to take its place.
Mr. Speaker, our country's forefathers knew a thing or two about accountability. Do people remember that peace, order and good government thing? They were founding objectives of government institutions in Canada under our Constitution. The Fathers of Confederation followed the lead of our other commonwealth countries in the era that assumed these objectives, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland.
Since Confederation, the provinces and municipalities of this country have also adopted these values and principles, recognizing the necessity and value of good government. With this legislation, first nations members can now rely on these values as well and be guaranteed these principles. The provinces and territories and, by extension, municipalities, which are governed by them, have all acknowledged the need for transparency and accountability, the foundation of good government. That is why Canada's first nations people need Bill .
As my hon. colleagues will undoubtedly agree, accountability requires transparency, something currently lacking in some first nation communities today. Some actually refuse to divulge information that most Canadians would commonly expect, which denies their members access to essential information about the community's affairs. It leaves them wondering just how much their chiefs and councillors are being paid and why their leaders desire to keep this information out of the public view. First nations members have the right to expect a higher standard. Indeed, they deserve the same measure of accountability and transparency enjoyed by other Canadians, who are assured of access to information about their government's activities because it is enshrined in legislation.
As the noted in his remarks in the chamber, our government has made sure that Canadians have ready access to information they need to judge our actions as parliamentarians. The very first piece of legislation we brought to the House back in 2006 was the Federal Accountability Act, which increased public oversight into how Canadians' tax dollars are spent. We not only publish public accounts, which document every dollar that is spent at the federal level each year, we also disclose the salaries of members of Parliament, through the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act.
These two pieces of legislation lay out a transparent formula to calculate salaries. They also provide for the publication of details of both the regular incomes and special allowances added to the salaries of MPs who take on extra responsibilities. Disclosure of other income and expense information is treated under conflict of interest and ethics legislation, as well. Public servants' pay is also on the record. Federal employee rates of pay are posted on the Treasury Board of Canada website, and all senior public servants are required to disclose, on a proactive quarterly basis, all travel and hospitality expenses.
The Government of Canada is not the only jurisdiction that requires the disclosure of audited consolidated financial statements and salaries. My hon. colleagues from Newfoundland and Labrador will attest that their province has a financial administration act that commits the province's legislature to table public accounts each and every year. The province's transparency and accountability act stipulates that ministers must account for government entities for which they are responsible, each year, in an annual report that includes an audited consolidated financial statement, which is then compared to the funds approved by the House of Assembly.
Newfoundland and Labrador's Municipalities Act also requires that local community leaders make their financial statements and audited reports available to the public. Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick have similar laws. Each has a financial administration act obligating the two provinces' respective legislatures to account for public spending in the previous fiscal year, and both have municipalities acts that require the specification of the types of information that must be made available to the public.
Likewise, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta, all have legislation governing the duties of municipalities to prepare and publish annual financial statements. Territorial governments also uphold this high standard. The Government of Northwest Territories makes its annual financial statements readily available on its website. The Government of Nunavut's financial administration act requires the government to publicly account for its expenditures for the previous year by laying the public accounts before the legislative assembly. The precise wording of the transparency and accountability legislation obviously varies from province to province and territory to territory, but almost all Canadian taxpayers have a guarantee in law that they can have access to basic information they require in order to hold their elected representatives accountable for their decisions and actions.
Many governments also disclose the salaries paid to their elected officials, from premiers to legislative backbenchers, to mayors and town councillors. The salaries of the members of many provincial legislatures are set by legislation and made available to the general public. Disclosure of other income and expense information is often treated under the conflict of interest and ethics legislation.
Nova Scotia's act respecting the public disclosure of compensation in the public sector applies to the public sector as well as to not-for-profit organizations receiving over $500,000 in public funding. These groups are required to post remuneration information on their websites for employees receiving compensation of $100,000 or more, or if they do not have a website, they have to make the information available on a publicly accessible website.
Similarly, in Manitoba, The Public Sector Compensation Disclosure Act requires public sector bodies to disclose to the public the amount of compensation it pays annually to each of its officers as well as employees whose salaries are $50,000 or more. Along with this legislation, The Legislative Assembly Act of Manitoba sets out that remuneration allowances and retirement benefits of members be established by a commission. Furthermore, the legislation requires that members must post expense reports on the legislative assembly website. In addition to various provincial and territorial laws, a number of municipalities have passed bylaws that require the release of information about mayors' and councillors' remuneration, as a best practice. Clearly what is being asked of first nation leaders is nothing more than what is expected in any other jurisdiction across the country.
As Colin Craig, the prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has said:
The bottom line is every politician in the country—federal, provincial, municipal and Aboriginal politicians, should have to disclose their pay to the public.
What we are asking is certainly not onerous. In fact, in some respects the legislation demands less of first nations than Canadians expect in other parts of the country from other levels of government. Bill would focus only on the disclosure of remuneration of the political leaders of the first nation governments, not those who are appointed officials or senior staff within their organizations.
I remind the House that self-governing first nations, under the terms of the self-government agreement, are already required to prepare such financial statements and make them available to community members. That is why these self-governing communities are not included in the bill.
Why should residents of other first nation communities expect any less? We need to only look at the history books to know that developing healthier, more sustainable communities depends on good democratic governance. This still holds true today. When we turn on our televisions we see people in countries all over the world living in less desirable political regimes and who are out marching in the streets demanding that they get this very right. However, we do not need to look beyond our borders to see people calling out for more transparency and accountability in government. First nation members, people living right here in Canada, are often the most vocal in calling for these same rights.
Members of the Squamish First Nation in British Columbia, the Peguis First Nation and other first nations in Manitoba have met with the or have appeared before the standing committee, of which I chair, and have demanded the same things. They have all expressed their concerns about the lack of accountability from the grassroots perspective.
I will quote some of the things that we have been told.
Phyllis Sutherland from the Peguis Accountability Coalition criticized the $220,000 tax-free annual salary of her band chief. She talked about people who had pressed for more details about this or who had asked for more information about the band accounts, but had been subject to harassment or had been fired from their jobs.
Ms. Sutherland said:
Bill C-27 is important to grassroots people as it will allow band members access chief and council salaries without fear of threats or reprisals. If First Nations want to govern themself they should be accountable and transparent as all other levels of government who make their salaries accessible for the public
Solange Garson from a first nation in Manitoba is an elected councillor. She echoed these very same sentiments when she said:
I want accountability for all first nations in Canada. Our politicians need to be held accountable too...Bill C-27 is something [getting] a lot of grassroots support. We want transparency like everyone else.
That is clearly not too much to ask in a country that prides itself on peace, order and good government. To deny first nation members this high standard of governance, which all other Canadians expect and enjoy, is absolutely outrageous. Passing this fair and reasonable legislation is the responsible thing to do to ensure transparency, increase accountability and ultimately more effective governance in first nation communities.
In case others have forgotten, I would like to briefly review exactly what the bill would do and explain how it would be a major improvement over the status quo.
First and foremost, the bill would allow first nation members to easily access the information that they require to assess the performance of their government to hold them to account and to make informed choices at election time.
Bill would continue to create greater accountability for first nations from their respective community members and these financial records would be provided directly to local populations within their community rather than through the minister as is currently the case when band councils choose to withhold such information.
It is worth noting that this information will be easily accessible to the broader Canadian public in the same way that such information is currently provided by other levels of government in Canada.
The publication of financial records on the first nation aboriginal affairs Canadian website could make it easier for analysts and comparisons could be made by a much wider group of people. This would include other levels of government, academics, the media, economists, investors and interested Canadians. Not only would this improvement result in clearer lines of accountability among first nation leaders, it would also create an environment to have stronger, more capable governments that would attract outside investment and partners in community development.
Aside from upholding democratic principles and the good government that most Canadians already enjoy, this greater transparency would increase confidence in first nation governments among other governments and investors. It would position them to build stronger relationships and ultimately create a better environment for development and investment.
Being certain that the government upholds standard accounting procedures and sound business practices is vitally important to potential investors. Transparency builds trust, which is an integral part of building strong relationships. It is precisely because other levels of government are open and transparent that we have the confidence and support of the business community.
We want to replicate this kind of success in first nations all across the country. Once this legislation is in place and it is clear how communities manage their money and account for those expenditures, businesses would be more willing to pursue joint ventures. They will have greater assurance that they can count on first nations to be a trustworthy partner.
There are many compelling reasons to support Bill , as I have just outlined and several of my colleagues have also explained today, but few are more persuasive than the fact that our country is founded on the fundamental commitment to good government, something guaranteed in legislation at all other levels of government across our great country. Once this act becomes law, first nations communities and first nations members will find themselves in esteemed company. This will be a welcome development among many community members who have called for us to act and to act right now.
I urge all parties to give this worthy legislation their wholehearted support. Let us ensure that first nations citizens enjoy the same rights and privileges that all other Canadians do from coast to coast to coast.
Mr. Speaker, by way of reminder, every four years, like every member country of the United Nations, Canada undergoes a review of its human rights record and we receive comments from our peers. So it is strange to hear the hon. members talk about transparency and international reputation.
Let me continue. The most recent review, called the Universal Periodic Review, took place in 2009. You just have to read it to see that the same comments come up time and time again from various member countries about first nations' living conditions, about the situation of aboriginal women and girls, about access to education and drinking water. It is appalling.
As UN member countries are condemning this very embarrassing situation on the international diplomatic stage, the Government of Canada's response is to require first nations to provide receipts for per diem allowances. We detect some unease from the members opposite from time to time, perhaps even some remorse—and frankly I hope such is the case—in the face of mistakes that are theirs alone, such as their inability to manage the political, economic and humanitarian problems that aboriginal peoples are experiencing.
Such a feeling of remorse would be appropriate after the release of the Auditor General's report in 2011, a report that followed 16 other audit reports that, for the most part, have remained on the shelf gathering dust. That report from the Auditor General pointed out that the basic standard of living of first nations is getting consistently worse. The report described an ongoing deterioration that future generations will pay for.
By basic standard of living, we mean access to healthy food, to housing and to drinking water. We in Canada live in a G8 country. I cannot take this anymore. This is a shame that we can no longer keep to ourselves, let alone forget. The whole world is now aware of this unbelievable situation. The Attawapiskat tragedy, which is now known around the world, is also a tragedy, a liability, a disgrace for all Canadians. This chamber holds 308 people who are responsible for it, for we surely are. We are parliamentarians and it is in our power to ensure that Canada is not considered by the international media—as the hon. member suggested earlier—as a country that puts up with this absolutely obscene poverty.
I really hope some hon. members are uncomfortable, because this is about humanity and responsibility. We are all responsible for the countless mistakes of the last centuries and the last decades. Today, however, government members, including those here with us today, must acknowledge their responsibility for the fact that, in recent years, the living conditions of first nations have not been given the absolute priority they deserve. As Sheila Fraser emphasized, that very neglect is one of the factors that led to Attawapiskat.
Accepting this responsibility does not mean dumping it onto others, and certainly not onto the first nations themselves. Let us not make the victims into the villains.
My thanks to my colleague who is reminding me that I have to tell you that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for .
Instead of accepting the recommendations of the UN and the Auditor General, instead of recognizing that this is a serious problem, though one we can solve, government members, by introducing and passing Bill , are choosing to put the blame onto aboriginal communities under the guise of requiring a transparency that their own ministers have difficulty observing, to say the least.
Instead of reading the multitude of reports, produced both in Canada and internationally, on the situation in first nations, the government is grabbing onto some old information fished up by a lobby group—about one administrator's salary in one community—and making it into a bill that it thinks is worthy of being a government program. An incident blown out of proportion by media in search of a scandal—not that there is any shortage of scandals here—becomes a policy of the Government of Canada. As a way to govern a country, that would be funny if the consequences were not so unfortunate.
The requirements in this bill are useless, because they already exist in a useful, adequate form. They are harmful because they impose a heavy burden on communities that few other jurisdictions have to bear.
They leave the bitter taste of colonialism in the mouth, just like the Indian Act. Where is the meaningful consultation and co-operation with first nations? Why is there none? Of course, it is because the government is doing this for their own good, as it has always done.
When you read this bill, you see paternalism on every line. The minister gets the power to withhold funds from communities, funds that are necessary to improve the standard of living of the people living there. What is more, anyone, from the community or not, has the right to go to Superior Court to ask that a community disclose its financial statements. Communities are also required to publish those financial statements online, though only half of aboriginal homes have an Internet connection.
As for families whose income is below the poverty line, the vast majority of which still live on reserves, 36% of these households have Internet access. We have to wonder who this measure is intended for. Is it really to ensure that the first nations are more transparent and accountable to their members? Or is it to make it easier for researchers at Sun News to find scandals in aboriginal communities?
This bill is a yet another way to divert attention. They are on the hunt for corrupt band leaders—the ultimate caricature—to hide the mistakes of this government and its predecessors.
What is most shocking in all of this is that audit powers already exist without the need for new legislation. The first nations already have a number of obligations to disclose financial information pursuant to the Indian Act—what a great title—and pursuant to a series of related laws and regulations.
The Governor in Council already has the power to allow the first nations to manage their revenues. He can issue regulations to make this permission effective. The Indian Bands Revenue Moneys Regulations already requires a yearly audit of the financial statements and for the Auditor General's report to be posted in conspicuous places.
Once again, the funding agreements that the department signs with each first nation already include all kinds of requirements, including the salaries of elected and unelected officials, their fees and travel expenses. It is all examined by an independent auditor. Most existing funding agreements are conditional on the delivery of this audited data, with the involvement of the department, if necessary. Furthermore, these days, the department's focus is on prevention and ongoing sustainability, instead of departmental intervention.
In her 2011 report, which looks at the 16 previous reports, the Auditor General stated that the reporting requirements on communities have been too burdensome in recent years. In 2002, the Auditor General formally recommended that the federal government—careful, this will be difficult—“consult with first nations”, to review reporting requirements to determine information needs.
Do we truly need this information?
At the time, the federal government required some 200 annual reports from aboriginal communities, a good number of which were thrown in the recycling bin before being looked at. In 2010, the federal government was still requiring tens of thousands of annual reports, and that number continues to increase.
Today, the government is proposing to expand this huge operation of collecting and producing data, contrary to every recommendation made in the past 10 years.
This zeal, this enthusiasm for audits—which we should consider passing on to the riding office of the President of the Treasury Board the next time he organizes an international summit—is not limited to first nations' activities and services. It extends to the entities deemed to be under its control, such as partnerships, enterprises, associations, projects and organizations, which often receive no federal funding and which we have no business auditing or regulating.
This requirement will create serious problems for the competitiveness of these entities, which are not public organizations but will be subject to public audits. If an enterprise is managed by a first nation—even though it does not receive a dime of the first nation's federal funding—the government will force the enterprise to disclose the details of its finances on the Internet, to the delight of its competitors, who will expect nothing less.
By creating this disadvantage for first nation enterprises, the government is creating an economic climate that is not conducive to the creation of jobs and initiatives, or the economic development of aboriginal communities.
Partisanship aside, I would like to invite my colleagues opposite, who have adopted the mantra of economic development and job creation, to reconsider this measure, which ignores the different types of first nations' initiatives.
I respectfully point out that this type of measure jeopardizes jobs in a depressed economic area. I am not saying, especially as the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, that I can be considered an expert on aboriginal affairs. However, like many of my fellow Canadians, I listen to the media, I read the papers, and I am aware of the inequality that greatly troubles most Canadians.
Our relationship with the first nations is dysfunctional. It needs help. It is as though the government is trying to make us fill out a form to prove that we have health insurance when we are at the emergency department.
Mr. Speaker, for the past few months, I have been working very closely with the Manawan Atikamekw community in my riding to help it resolve a very difficult situation.
Like all reserves, Manawan has serious problems that will not be fixed with the wave of a magic wand. I could talk from now until morning about the needs of the first nations that I have heard from.
However, I wish to use my time wisely, so suffice it to say that what they truly do not need is Bill . First nations do not want it and really do not need it because it is unjust, useless and contradictory. The Conservative government is so obsessed with its ideological agenda and so bound by its narrow-mindedness that I am tempted to believe it does not understand how unjust this bill is.
In January 2012, the said that he wanted to work with first nations during the Crown-first nations gathering. How can he unilaterally impose such a despicable bill mere months after making that statement? Either he is incompetent or he is ignorant.
The dictionary defines “co-operation” as “the act of co-operating, of participating with others in a task”. For the benefit of the hon. members opposite, here is the definition of “other”: “separate in identity or distinct in kind”. Clearly, alas, the Conservatives understand neither of those two words. So, for their information and for the general edification of all, here is the definition of “coercion”: “to force or constrain”, as in the sentence: “Bill C-27 is introduced in a spirit of coercion and with no regard for co-operation”.
Let me be perfectly clear, I am in favour of transparency. But, since this bill claims to be strengthening it for the first nations' benefit, why does the government make it possible for any Canadian to take advantage of it? The bill allows anyone to get up any fine morning and say that, since aboriginal people are bound by legislation, let us ask for an order that allows us to see their salaries. At that point, it is no longer transparency, it is prying.
To understand the government's action, we have to realize that Bill comes from Bill , which grew out of a spurious story from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. It is fine to listen to civil society lobby groups, but you also have to be honest enough to look at the facts before giving in to oversimplification.
This bill would never have seen the light of day without the endless repetition of the erroneous information that first nations' chiefs make more than the . That malicious rumour, racist in the strength with which it was spread, morphed into a bill with no regard to the facts: the average salary of a chief is $60,000 and councillors earn around $30,000. That is nothing to get into a panic about.
I imagine that actual facts about first nations have little importance in the eyes of the Conservatives, just like facts about climate change and the state of this country's democracy. When they are asked questions, all they do is trot out the same meaningless comments, like an old broken record.
If this bill served any purpose whatsoever, we could agree that we need to review how to implement it. But that is not the case. Bill is completely useless—as useless as the earth is round, as truly as ice melts, unless of course, its real purpose is to harm first nations. That would not be surprising, since that is precisely what the Canadian government has been trying to do since it was created in 1867.
Bill is calling on first nations to be even more accountable. They are already accountable to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Is there any point to producing reports that no one reads? No.
It is a fact that the documents produced by this legislation will serve no practical purpose. The reason is quite simple: the public service has no interest in the documents that are already produced. First nations are already sufficiently accountable and the government must stop treating them like children.
Among the needs of aboriginal people are things like education, health care, food, housing, social services and clean drinking water. Bill must be considered in light of the Auditor General's conclusions in June 2011. The AG reminded us that despite the repeated audits recommending many reforms over the past decade, the government has failed miserably to address the worsening living conditions of first nation members. However, I suppose that will not mean much to a government that is currently being taken to court by its Auditor General.
Once again, this would all seem like a pathetic joke if Bill at least had any consistency. However, this bill is so poorly put together that it is hardly worth mentioning.
Since coming to power, the Conservative government has done its utmost to steer clear of transparency. It no longer answers journalists' questions, no longer provides information to the Auditor General, and it has cut important audit positions. Then, it dares to ask first nations to do more than other Canadians, when they have neither the expertise nor the means to complete so much paperwork.
This bill is so contradictory that it even breaks other laws. Can we truly allow a bill to trample other laws so easily? Or will the Conservatives perhaps tell us that aboriginal peoples do not have the same rights as others?
I know that we are repeating ourselves, but I think what we have to say is worth repeating again and again. Although the stated objective of Bill is to enhance the transparency of first nations members, its scope is much broader because it requires the financial statements to be put up on first nations' and the AANDC websites, and permits anyone, not just a first nations member, to ask a superior court to disclose financial statements and salaries.
I will say it again: Bill is unfair, useless and contradictory. But given that we can say the same thing about the government, I do not expect it to change its mind. Therefore, I have this to say to my aboriginal sisters and brothers: the NDP will work with you to improve your self-governance and to help solve problems that are really affecting you.
Mr. Speaker, I am very honoured to speak on Bill , today.
As the title of the bill implies, the bill proposes to make crystal clear to community members exactly who gets paid for what within their band councils as well as any other benefits that go along with the job. The legislation states that first nation leaders shall be open about the salaries and expenses of the chief and councillors of the band council. With that knowledge, first nation residents can determine whether they are getting good value from their elected officials.
The bill might just as easily have been called “the citizens for accountability act” because its overarching objective is to increase accountability and ensure that political leaders are answerable to their constituents for their decisions about financial remuneration.
If we look at the root of the word “accountability”, we have the word “account”. The definition of accountability is the obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them and disclose the results in a transparent manner. It also includes the responsibility for money and other entrusted property. The legislation comes down to accounting in its classic sense.
First nation leaders are quite literally being asked to open their books so local residents can see how public money is being spent. To be precise, Bill would require that audited consolidated financial statements of first nation governments be prepared annually. It is worth noting that this includes all sources of funding.
In addition to federal government transfer payments from various departments and agencies, first nations have other sources of revenue. The nature and extent of these sources varies from first nation to first nation. It can include funding from provincial and territorial governments, user fees for services such as garbage pick-up, moorage, rental income for housing and property taxes, as well as other profits from economic development.
I would like to point out to my hon. colleagues that producing annual consolidated financial statements is something that band councils already do. It is a condition of their funding agreements with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
These agreements not only have requirements for reporting to the government and for members of first nations, but band councils also need to indicate whether funds were used for the purpose intended and whether programs and services were delivered in accordance with the terms and conditions of the funding arrangements. These financial statements, which have to include schedules of remuneration and expenses, must be audited by independent, accredited, professional auditors. Financial reporting is credible when it is based on independent set accounting standards.
What is new with Bill is that first nation governments would be obliged to disclose these financial statements to community members and the general public. Individuals who want to know what is in those statements would no longer have to ask for permission to see the books and hope that band council members would comply with their requests. First nation residents would be assured that these details would be disclosed publicly in an annual report to the community.
If first nation members have any concerns about the community's money and how the money is being spent, the new accountability standard would assure them of public avenues to have these issues addressed.
Financial reports would include information related to any and all band holdings, which according to generally acceptable accounting principles, need to be consolidated with the first nations' financial statements, but at the highest level of aggregate.
This would include most businesses owned by the band. I want to be clear that we do not expect each individual business to publish detailed financial statements. The only thing being asked for in this act is the publication of audited consolidated financial statements of the first nation as a whole. This would include any entities that, according to accounting rules, are consolidated with the first nation, such as band-owned businesses.
Since these statements are highly aggregated, no proprietary information would be revealed that could undercut the competitiveness of a business or that of its partners. I want to repeat that, because it is really important for the opposition to hear this. Since these statements are highly aggregated, no proprietary information would be revealed that could undercut the competitiveness of a business or that of its partners.
In addition, for the first time, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development would publish the audited consolidated financial statements, including remuneration for all first nations officials, as soon as the information became available. As other members have pointed out, these new requirements are consistent with standard accounting practices employed by all other levels of government—the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Every other government in Canada routinely discloses audited consolidated financial statements and salaries. Once this act has been passed, it would bring politicians on reserves in line with other elected officials across the country whose salaries are already available to the public.
I can assure the House that accountability in this bill is not simply about bean-counting. As the Auditor General of Canada has defined it, accountability is a relationship based on obligations to demonstrate, review and take responsibility for performance, both the results achieved in light of agreement expectations and the means used. Making it law for first nations chiefs and councillors to open their books is really about good communication. It enhances trust and support for band councils among first nations members, and it increases the confidence of all Canadians in first nations governments.
No one needs to take it from me. No less of an authority than the World Bank made the same argument in a recent report about accountability through communication. The report states:
As an actor in the public sphere, the state is accountable for its actions in providing service delivery to its citizens. Citizens, in return, provide legitimacy to the state through public opinion. Both the state and citizens have communication processes and tools at their disposal that hold them accountable.... The effective use of structures and processes of communication for accountability can result in better relations between the state and its citizens, improved governance and, in the long run, increased effectiveness of development efforts...
The final point gets to the very heart of the legislation before us today. Bill is fundamentally about ensuring first nations members' democratic rights can be fully exercised. This expectation is clear in the report of a study group authorized by the Public Sector Accounting Board of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants, called “Financial Reporting by First Nations”. It points out that accounting practices and the need for financial reporting are based on social, political and economic circumstances and the accountability relationships that arise from these circumstances.
The report leaves no doubt that first nation governments are accountable at three levels. First, they are accountable to first nation members living on and off reserve, who have a right to select their first nation government's leaders. Second, they are accountable to the federal government departments that provide funding to first nations, as well as to provincial and territorial governments that have established legal or economic relationships with first nations, and third, to capital advisers who are investors.
Beyond these three groups, with whom first nations have direct relationships, they are also accountable to residents on first nation lands who are taxpayers, such as people with leases, whether they are first nation members or not. They are accountable to the various organizations that have contractual relationships with first nations requiring financial reporting; current and potential business partners who will want the information for decision-making purposes; developers, who are involved in residential housing, industry and commercial properties and other capital projects; as well as regulators and agencies monitoring first nations.
However, interest in first nation financial matters does not end there. Credit rating organizations and financial analysts, the news media, public interest groups and the general public may also want to access first nation financial reports. That is why Bill stipulates that band councils' annual financial information needs to be released not only within the immediate community but also to the wider Canadian public because, as the Public Sector Accounting Board of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants emphasizes in its report, government's goal is to provide services and redistribute resources, not to make a profit.
A government's budget portrays public policy, establishes estimates of revenue, expenses, expenditure and financing requirements, and is an important part of the government accountability cycle. Put more simply, consistent practices and procedures help to keep first nation governments transparent and accountable and make the services that governments provide more reliable and effective.
Equally important, opening the books and demonstrating sound accounting practices is good for business. This is made clear in the board's report and reinforced by practical experience at the community level. The certainty and predictability that comes with generally accepted accounting principles are a definite plus when it comes to attracting private sector partners. Being certain that a first nation government upholds standard accounting procedures and employs sound business practices is vitally important to potential investors. By applying the new accountability measures in this legislation, band councils will be able to demonstrate best practices in their financial operations, which is crucial to creating an environment conducive to job creation and economic growth.
Once a band council inspires confidence among prospective investors, it can attract economic development projects, leading to greater self-reliance and a better standard of living for first nation residents, the ultimate goal of the bill. This goal has been reiterated in every throne speech since 2006. It was powerfully reinforced in the 2011 Speech from the Throne, which committed the government to support transparency for first nation communities by requiring chiefs and councillors to publish their salaries and expenses. I am proud to say that with Bill we are delivering on this commitment.
The first nations financial transparency act joins a suite of laws and policies that we have developed to advance economic development on reserve, the most recent being the first nations elections act. These two pieces of legislation are the fundamental building blocks to effective first nation governance. Stronger election and accountability systems will result in stronger, more stable governments, which in turn will result in more prosperous communities. Strengthened first nation governments will be in a position to earn the trust of business partners who are willing to make solid business investments. These investments will lead to increased economic development and job creation in first nation communities. Who could possibly argue with that?
Anyone who looks objectively at the facts I have laid out, which are validated by the outside sources I have quoted, can only conclude that Bill is both necessary and beneficial. The legislation meets the needs of first nation residents. At the same time, it advances the interests of their local leaders, other governments, the private sector and, in the end, all Canadians. As I said at the outset of my speech, as much as the act is about increasing transparency, it is ultimately about ensuring accountability and upholding democracy. That is something all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike, hold dear.
Surely all parties can see the merit in this worthy legislation and will give it their vote of confidence.