First Nations Elections Act
An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations
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Indian Affairs and Northern Development—Main Estimates, 2013–14
Business of Supply
May 9th, 2013 / 7:40 p.m.
Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK
Mr. Chair, I rise to speak to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's main estimates for 2013-14. Before I begin, I would like to indicate that I will use the first 10 minutes of my time to speak and the last 5 minutes to pose questions.
These main estimates reflect the Government of Canada's continued commitment to improving the quality of life for aboriginal people and northerners. Through targeted investments, this government is helping build the strong foundations of governance, human capital and infrastructure, which are the basis for healthy and prosperous communities.
Bill C-27, First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which received royal assent this past March, is one such example of our government's efforts to promote greater transparency and accountability. This, in turn, will create the conditions that encourage investment, economic development and growth, building a foundation for long-term prosperity in first nation communities across the country.
The passage of this legislation into law represents a milestone for those first nation communities, members and leaders who have been calling for this change. As I have said before, all Canadians, including first nations, want and deserve transparency and accountability from their governments. I am proud of our work with grassroots first nation members to have this legislation passed into law.
Until this legislation was passed, first nation governments were the only level of government in Canada that did not have some form of legislation to enhance or ensure accountability and transparency. Now the roughly 580 first nations operating under the Indian Act can benefit from more accountable, transparent governments.
Phyllis Sutherland, member of the Peguis First Nation and president of the Peguis Accountability Coalition, has said:
Bill C-27 will lead to big changes in accountability and transparency in First Nation communities...People at the grassroots level will be able to access information about their community without fear of intimidation or reprisal.
Colin Craig, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said:
We pushed for this new law for over three years so we're ecstatic it has passed. We commend the government for acting on concerns raised by taxpayers and whistleblowers living on reserves...Plain and simple, this new law will improve accountability and especially help the grassroots hold their elected officials accountable.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act ensures first nation citizens have the same democratic rights and protections as all other Canadians. First nations are already required as a condition of funding agreements to provide government officials with audited financial statements and a schedule of salary, honoraria and travel expenses for chiefs and councillors.
That is not always shared with local residents, even when they ask for the information. In fact, during committee hearings for Bill C-27, we heard stories of people being intimidated in their home community, just for asking for that information.
This act ensures these statements will now be made available to first nation members, as well as to the public through posting on a website. This change will not lead to an increased reporting burden. These documents are already being prepared in accordance with the same accounting principles that apply to all levels of government right across the country, using a consistent format that was put in place in 2012-13.
Our ultimate goal is one recipient, one agreement and one report. Work toward this goal has already begun through a pilot project in which several first nations across Canada are taking part. The participating first nations prepare an annual report to their community and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will now draw the performance information it needs from these reports to satisfy its own requirements to report to the Treasury Board and Parliament.
The results of this pilot project have been encouraging and as an added benefit, the participating first nations are in an excellent position to meet the requirements under the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
In parallel with financial transparency created by the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, our government is reducing the reporting burden on first nations created by funding agreements. The year-end reporting handbook has been streamlined by 60% from previous years. This means that we are reducing the number of reports recipients must submit, including eliminating those that duplicate information we can now get from the audited financial statements that will be online.
All first nations will now be completing fewer reports each year, beginning this year. We intend to go even further to weed out unnecessary reporting, while ensuring Parliament, Canadians and first nations community members can evaluate the results achieved with taxpayer dollars.
Consistency and transparency will help voters in first nations make decisions at election time. They will be able to make comparisons from year to year and from community to community. They can ask questions about spending and about revenues. Some first nations governments already post financial information on their communities' websites. Some already table comprehensive annual reports to their communities. We commend them for this. The First Nations Financial Transparency Act will encourage this kind of progress right across the country. Legislation like Bill C-27 is an essential step forward on that path.
We have worked with first nations partners to develop legislation that would replace the defective election provisions of the Indian Act with a clear, consistent, reliable framework that communities can use to elect strong, stable, effective governments. I am pleased to report that our creative and collaborative work has borne fruit and the result of that creative collaboration is Bill S-6, the first nations election act.
The Indian Act elections system has significant flaws. For instance, the Indian Act requires that first nations communities hold elections every two years. This requirement deters first nations chiefs and councils from initiating long-term projects, from working closely with investors, business owners and partners in other governments and from taking full advantage of emerging opportunities to improve the lives of people in their communities.
There is more. The Indian Act does not prevent any person from running and being elected chief and to a councillor position at the same time. The current system's loose nomination process also enables the names of candidates who are neither dedicated to running nor serious about serving to be placed on the ballot without their approval and, in some instances, without their knowledge. Because of this omission in the law, some first nations elections have had more than 100 candidates vie for as few as 13 positions.
Finally, the Indian Act elections system does not contain offence and penalty provisions, leaving it open to abuse and questionable activities.
Bill S-6 would enable first nations people to shut a piece of the Indian Act by providing an alternative to its flawed election provisions. Bill S-6 would present an open, transparent and accountable election system that first nations people expect and deserve. We only have to consider some key provisions of the bill and what these provisions would set in motion to understand its value.
Significantly, Bill S-6 would provide for terms of office of four years. With this time horizon, band councils are well positioned to advance important initiatives for the well-being of their communities. As well, Bill S-6 would provide: more rigour to the nomination of candidates; offence and penalty provisions that would allow courts to impose penalties for activities such as vote buying and obstructing the electoral process; and remove the paternalistic role of the minister in reviewing and deciding upon election appeals.
It is important that we all understand that the proposed act would not be mandatory. A first nation could simply remain under its current election system, whether that is the Indian Act or its own community-based system. To opt into the new law, a band council must adopt a resolution asking the minister to add its name to the schedule of first nations to which the new election system would apply. At a later time, a first nation could remove itself from the first nations election act by developing its own community election code, submitting that code to a community vote and receiving a favourable outcome. More than that, the fact that Bill S-6 is the product of collaborative efforts among government and first nations organizations is testament to its validity as an important step forward for first nations.
As members can see from our work on the First Nations Financial Transparency Act and on Bill S-6, the first nations election act, our government is committed to helping deliver more effective, more transparent and accountable governments.
Business of the House
May 9th, 2013 / 3:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, this afternoon we will continue the debate on today’s opposition motion from the NDP. Pursuant to the rules of the House, time is allocated and there will be a vote after the two-day debate.
Tomorrow we will resume the third reading debate on Bill S-9, the Nuclear Terrorism Act. As I mentioned on Monday, I am optimistic that we will pass that important bill this week.
Should we have extra time on Friday, we will take up Bill C-48, the Technical Tax Amendments Act, 2012, at report stage and third reading.
When we come back from constituency week, I am keen to see the House make a number of accomplishments for Canadians. Allow me to make it clear to the House what the government's priorities are.
Our government will continue to focus on jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. In doing that, we will be working on reforming the temporary foreign worker program to put the interests of Canadians first; implementing tax credits for Canadians who donate to charity and parents who adopt; extending tax credits for Canadians who take care of loved ones in their homes; supporting veterans and their families by improving the balance for determining veterans' benefits; moving closer to equality for Canadians living on reserves through better standards for drinking water, which my friend apparently objects to; giving women on reserves the rights and protections that other Canadian women have had for decades, something to which he also objects; and keeping our streets and communities safer by making real improvements to the witness protection program. We will of course do more.
Before we rise for the summer, we will tackle the bills currently listed on the order paper, as well as any new bills which might get introduced. After Victoria Day, we will give priority consideration to bills which have already been considered by House committees.
For instance, we will look at Bill C-48, which I just mentioned, Bill C-51, the Safer Witnesses Act, Bill C-52, the Fair Rail Freight Service Act, and Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, which I understand could be reported back soon.
I look forward also to getting back from committee and passing Bill C-60, , the economic action plan 2013 act, no. 1; Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act; and Bill C-21, the political loans accountability act.
We have, of course, recently passed Bill C-15, the strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act and Bill S-7, the combating terrorism act. Hopefully, tomorrow we will pass Bill S-9, the nuclear terrorism act.
Finally, we will also work toward second reading of several bills including: Bill C-12, the safeguarding Canadians' personal information act; Bill C-49, the Canadian museum of history act; Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act; Bill C-56, the combating counterfeit products act; Bill C-57, the safeguarding Canada's seas and skies act; Bill C-61, the offshore health and safety act; Bill S-6, the first nations elections act; Bill S-10, the prohibiting cluster munitions act; Bill S-12, the incorporation by reference in regulations act; Bill S-13, the port state measures agreement implementation act; Bill S-14, the fighting foreign corruption act; Bill S-15, the expansion and conservation of Canada’s national parks act, which establishes Sable Island National Park; and Bill S-17, the tax conventions implementation act, 2013.
I believe and I think most Canadians who send us here expect us to do work and they want to see us vote on these things and get things done. These are constructive measures to help all Canadians and they certainly expect us to do our job and actually get to votes on these matters.
I hope we will be able to make up enough time to take up all of these important bills when we come back, so Canadians can benefit from many parliamentary accomplishments by the members of Parliament they have sent here this spring.
Before taking my seat, let me formally designate, pursuant to Standing Order 81(4)(a), Tuesday, May 21, as the day appointed for the consideration in a committee of the whole of all votes under Natural Resources in the main estimates for the final year ending March 31, 2014. This would be the second of two such evenings following on tonight's proceedings.
Opposition Motion—Aboriginal Canadians
Business of Supply
January 31st, 2013 / 12:10 p.m.
David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC
Our government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to self-government and land claim settlements. We know they are the keys to increasing opportunities, jobs and prosperity for first nations. Enabling first nations to participate more fully in the economic improvements, both for their financial and social well-being, contributes to healthier, more sustainable communities. Equally important, self-government gives greater control to first nations leaders and residents over the decisions that affect their daily lives.
Our government is committed to working with willing first nations to make changes to elements of the Indian Act that are barriers to first nations governance and economic growth. This past month, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development announced that eight more first nations have joined the First Nations Land Management Act and chosen freedom from 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act. They now have power over their own reserve lands and resources, so they are able to take advantage of the economic activities without wading through bureaucratic red tape.
The First Nations Land Management Act is an important stepping stone to achieving self-government because it builds community capacity. Since first nations opted into this act and are no longer required to adhere to these land-related sections of the Indian Act, they have developed experience with land management. This experience, as well as developing a strong governance structure, sets the stage for greater self-government responsibilities down the road and improving accountability to members of first nation communities.
When a first nation opts into the First Nations Land Management Act regime, it opts out of the 34 land-related sections of the Indian Act. This frees the community from the outdated land management provisions of the Indian Act, which have not kept pace with first nations' desire for increased participation in the Canadian economy. There have been 69 first nations that have already made the decision to use this tool. We look forward to welcoming many more of them.
Communities deserve to be responsible for land-related issues that were previously administered by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. This shift gives back the responsibility to the first nations to take greater ownership of economic development on reserve and encourages partnership with the private sector. This is a key component of our government's shared goal with first nations people to increase autonomy and self-sufficient communities. Our government believes that incremental amendments to the Indian Act to bring our concrete, practical changes will lead to real results for grassroots first nations people and enable them to achieve greater self-sufficiency and prosperity.
Another example is Bill C-27, the first nations financial transparency act. Canadians understand the importance of transparency and accountability to promote confidence in their leaders. They know that first nations members deserve the same from their leadership, and they need access to adequate information to ensure their elected leaders are acting in their best interest. Bill C-27 puts in place the same types of rules for first nations on financial transparency that already apply to other levels of government in Canada. Let me remind my hon. colleagues that chiefs belonging to the Assembly of First Nations passed a resolution at their special chiefs assembly in December 2010 regarding financial disclosure. They affirm the need to publicly release information regarding salaries and expenses to their members. They have also agreed to make financial information available via the Internet where applicable.
Sadly, implementation of this resolution is far from complete. Even the AFN knows that financial disclosure is needed for first nation communities. The bill will provide an important new tool that will enable first nation leaders to be more accountable to their members. Transparency is at the foundation of a healthy democracy. To this end, Bill C-27 is designed to empower first nation community members to hold their leaders to account. Further, this initiative is part of a wider government effort to create greater accountability to enhance economic growth for first nations and all Canadians.
This legislation is something first nation residents are demanding. The real genesis of this legislation rests at the grassroots level. Individual members of first nations and, in some cases, community coalition groups formed across the country have repeatedly complained about questionable financial practices by their band councils. Too many first nation members say that they do not have access to the information they need to hold their officials to account. Bill C-27 will require the salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors and the audited consolidated financial statements of the first nation as a whole to be publicly disclosed. It will put in place rules regarding financial transparency that are comparable to those that apply to governments across Canada.
Most important, the public availability of this data will result in greater and more consistent transparency practices that will increase investor confidence in first nation communities. The proposed legislation has benefited from the input of first nation leaders, such as Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan. Chief Bear stated during his appearance before the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs that transparency and accountability were among the principle factors that turned the Whitecap Dakota First Nation from near bankruptcy to the model vibrant community it is today.
Bill C-27 complements Bill S-6, the first nations elections act. These are both important pieces of legislation that support democratic practices and will empower first nations in the future. If passed, Bill S-6 will help ensure that first nations have a modern legislative framework to better support democracy, accountability and transparent governments, allowing first nation community members to make informed decisions about their leadership and create a better environment for private sector investment. This could in turn lead to greater economic development opportunities and improve the quality of life for first nation communities.
Our government is committed to working with willing first nations to strengthen financial and government transparency and accountability on reserve. The Indian Act cannot be replaced overnight, but our government has committed to working together to create the conditions to enable sustainable and economic success for first nations.
Furthermore, our government is investing in programs such as the aboriginal skills and employment training strategy, and the skills partnership fund. A set $1.68 billion has been committed from 2010 to 2015 to increase first nation participation in the Canadian labour force. I believe this is a great move forward, and I look forward, as a member of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, to working further with first nations to ensure that they move forward as all Canadians should.
Business of the House
December 6th, 2012 / 3:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by thanking everyone involved in supporting us as members of Parliament in Tuesday’s voting. Despite all of the amendments at committee and in the House, the balance of the government’s 2012 economic action plan will become law shortly.
This afternoon, the House will resume consideration of second reading of Bill C-15, the Strengthening Military Justice in the Defence of Canada Act. Once that has concluded, we will turn to report stage of Bill C-37, the Increasing Offenders' Accountability for Victims Act, Bill C-42, the Enhancing Royal Canadian Mounted Police Accountability Act, and Bill C-43, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act.
We will continue working on these bills tomorrow.
Monday shall be the seventh allotted day, which goes to the New Democrats. This gives the official opposition one last opportunity before the new year to lay out its plans and schemes for a $21.5 billion job-killing carbon tax that will raise the price of everything.
For the rest of the week, I hope to advance a lot of legislation that continues to sit on the order paper. In addition to the bills I mentioned already, we will also consider Bill C-48, the technical tax amendments act, 2012; Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act; Bill S-2, the family homes on reserves and matrimonial interests or rights act; Bill S-6, the first nations elections act; Bill S-10, the prohibiting cluster munitions act; Bill C-49, the Canadian museum of history act; Bill C-17, the Air Canada and its associates act; and Bill S-7, the combating terrorism act, once that bill has been reported back from committee next week, which I anticipate.
October 24th, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.
Clarence Paupanekis Councillor, Norway House Cree Nation
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Honourable members, thank you on behalf of Norway House Cree Nation for this opportunity to present on the proposed legislation, Bill C-27, An Act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations.
My name is Councillor Clarence Paupanekis. I'm the finance portfolio holder for Norway House Cree Nation. Chief Ron Evans was unable to take part in today's proceedings; however, he thanks the committee for the invitation and sends his regards to each of you.
As one of many progressive and forward-moving first nations, Norway House Cree Nation, through its chief and council, has worked diligently over the past year and a half to develop an accountability framework, establishing sound financial management and administrative practices and providing good governance, accountability, and transparency. In doing so, Norway House Cree Nation has undertaken strategic planning, internal reorganization, centralization of finances—including the implementation of financial processes to ensure accountability—human resources and capacity building, and social and economic development analysis as well as assessments.
These exercises have been extremely critical in ensuring that we have the human and financial resources necessary to accomplish the many tasks and goals set out by our leadership as part of our strategic planning process and in response to the mandate for Norway House Cree Nation that our membership has given us.
That being said, we have secured the necessary professional capacity, with the necessary skills and experience in the areas of finance, strategic planning, policy, and external relations, to move our community forward.
It is imperative to note, however, that we did this on our own. We have brought in our own team and developed our own financial and strategic plans and have already made great strides, both in social and economic development and in putting our financial house in order.
Chief Darcy Bear, in his presentation to the standing committee last week, reiterated these same sentiments, stating that it is absolutely necessary that first nations obtain their own human resources and professional capacity. The accomplishments of his community speak to the importance of doing so.
These measures ensure that first nations establish sound financial and administrative management so that we can move forward in implementing social and economic development initiatives, including business ventures and partnerships as well as capital projects, that will allow us to generate own-source revenues and meet the needs of our community.
Furthermore, they allow us as first nations to move forward in establishing our own financial management laws, in enabling us to enter into the First Nations Land Management Act under which we have our own certified land managers, to develop land codes, and to negotiate self-government agreements, among other important initiatives.
In order to do any of the latter, a first nation must have both financial and political stability as well as credibility.
It has been recognized that one of the major setbacks for first nations is the constant turnover in leadership, which not only causes instability in our communities, but also causes setbacks in both social and economic development opportunities because of the constant need to re-establish relationships and partnerships, which are critical to providing strong leadership and governance and to accomplishing the tasks before our leaders as well as to establishing opportunities for our membership.
We are hopeful that Bill S-6, the First Nations Elections Act, which is a community, grassroots-led initiative that first nations across the country were engaged in and were consulted on, will be passed by the House of Commons this session so that we can begin to remedy these ongoing issues.
The elements of this bill will establish the necessary foundations to assist us in developing strong accountability frameworks pertaining to elections held for those first nations who are governed by section 74 of the Indian Act—one step further in moving away from the Indian Act—as well as in implementing the mechanisms needed to address issues surrounding election processes and concerns among the membership about ineffective leadership. Further to this, Bill S-6 will remove the authority from the minister of AANDC to oversee first nations elections and appeals.
With respect to Bill C-27, although the intent of the bill with respect to enhancing accountability and transparency for first nations is good, we cannot support the bill in its current form. Like others who have come before the standing committee, we agree that several amendments are required before the legislation can proceed in the House of Commons.
Furthermore, consultation with first nations on the development of this bill has not occurred. However, this is our opportunity to provide input and address our concerns regarding the current reading of the bill. It is imperative to note that first nations members across the country have been asking for greater accountability measures from their governments, and this bill is seen as a response by the Government of Canada for those who have not yet implemented and demonstrated accountability and transparency to their membership.
We agree that accountability and transparency, both of which are pillars of good governance, are important. We as first nations government, as any government, should be required to have mechanisms in place to ensure financial accountability. However, we should be responsible for constructing our own accountability frameworks.
Bill C-27 has received much criticism from first nations as it currently reads, not because of its accountability and transparency implications, but rather due to certain elements of the bill, which would see first nations reporting much more information above and beyond the expectations of public sector accounting principles and standards.
Yes, the reality is that first nations communities receive federal funding, and as such, we have an obligation to be accountable for such funding. However, the reporting mechanisms currently in place continue to overburden our communities, as was articulated by the Auditor General in her 2006 report. This could potentially risk delivery of programs and services our communities are responsible for.
We as first nations should retain the right to choose our priorities and define our financial accountability mechanisms. Our focus should be on ensuring that the funding is in fact used in the most effective way to deliver the programs and services for our people and not spent on the numerous reports that are required to justify the funds we receive, which barely meet the needs of our community.
Furthermore, we should not be held more accountable than federal, provincial, and municipal governments are, and we certainly should not be forced to publicly disclose our audited financial statements on the Internet. It should be left to the individual communities to decide how their audited financial statements should be disseminated and to which of its stakeholders, and not for the government to dictate.
Our practice in Norway House Cree Nation is to hold a community meeting to share our audited financial statements and explain in simple terms what the financial statements read. This information is put in a format that is easily understood by our committee members. Furthermore, our membership can request a copy of the audited financial statements from the band office and members of our council and our CFO. They are all accessible to answer any questions and address any concerns regarding the statements.
Furthermore, we have implemented stringent internal financial approval and reporting processes that ensure that all directors, program managers, and administrators are accountable to our management team and CFO, who in turn report to chief and council on all financial matters. These reports are made on a regular basis to the chief and council at our monthly council meetings, and in turn are reported at our community meetings.
With respect to the disclosure of salaries for chief and council, we agree this information should be disclosed to our members. Like Whitecap Dakota First Nation, we have also done a review of all salaries across our organization and have implemented a competitive and equitable salary grid to keep our people employed within our community.
The expectation to provide a separate annual schedule of remuneration that includes the details of salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, fees, honoraria, dividends, and expenses paid by the first nation, and any entity controlled by the first nation, to the chief and/or council in their professional and personal capacity should remain internal information. Internal financial accountability with respect to prohibiting double-dipping with respect to travel and honorarium regarding committees, boards, and businesses should be at the discretion of the community. Thus, remuneration should remain consistent with the definition as outlined in the Income Tax Act.
It should also be noted that travel, and expenses related to travel, should not be associated with one salary, or wages, as it is a separate matter. Travel, especially for those who live in remote and isolated communities, continues to be costly, especially to urban centres where business meetings are most often held. Where possible, our community finds every opportunity to hold meetings within the community to reduce travel-related expenditures.
With respect to the public disclosure of private enterprises or band-owned business entities, we also agree that the public disclosure of this information could jeopardize potential partnerships and business ventures by inadvertently scoping in entities. Again, generally accepted accounting principles should be followed here, and first nations should not have to publicly disclose any more information than is the public standard.
Lastly, with regard to alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution, as well as enforcement, this should also be left to each individual community to determine and implement. Our funding agreements in their current form already contain provisions to deal with these matters. What this bill should do is support community-driven processes and provide the tools and mechanisms to support capacity development. This is what our communities and leaders should continue to seek: fairness, equity, and respect through government-to-government relationships.
We all need to be reminded that if our first nations communities prosper, we all prosper. If we work together, we can achieve great things for our communities, provinces, territories, and for our country as a whole.
Thank you again for this opportunity to address Bill C-27.
October 15th, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.
Vancouver Island North
John Duncan Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's been one of those days, so I do apologize for the ten minutes that I kept you waiting.
I'm pleased to be joined by Karl Jacques, who is from our justice department; Brenda Kustra, the DG for governance with my department; and Andrew Francis, who is CFO in corporate accounting for the department.
I'm happy to speak to Bill C-27 and to respond to your committee's questions. As I indicated when Bill C-27 was first introduced last fall, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act is one of a series of initiatives that will help to build stronger, more self-sufficient first nations communities. It complements Bill S-6, the First Nations Elections Act. Both are important pieces of legislation that will strengthen transparency and accountability in first nations governments and will help to empower first nations people.
The first nations residents want and expect transparency from their elected representatives. Like all Canadians, they want assurances that funds are being used to improve their communities' quality of life and economic opportunity. We believe that first nations citizens should have access to the financial statements of their governments and information on the salaries of their elected officials, as do other Canadians.
Democracy depends on citizens being able to call their elected leaders to account to ensure they represent the community's best interests. Under current Indian Act policy, first nations community members may ask for financial information relating to their band. However, the first nation is currently not legally required to release this information. As a result, each year my department receives requests from first nations individuals looking for this basic information, which we believe they should be able to access directly from their band. I would much prefer not to be the middleman in responding to these requests.
Mr. Chair, Bill C-27 would directly address this issue by requiring first nations governments to publish annual audited financial statements and a schedule of the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors. This would ensure that first nations community members have the necessary information to make informed decisions about their governments. It is important to note that this bill would not set salary levels for chief and councillors, rather it will remain the responsibility of the first nation to set the appropriate level of remuneration for elected officials. Bill C-27 will simply provide for the public disclosure of financial information that would allow the membership to decide if levels of compensation are appropriate.
A real or perceived lack of transparency and accountability from first nations leaders can also erode investor confidence and impede a community's ability to take full advantage of economic development opportunities. Ultimately, this delays or destroys job opportunities and economic progress for the first nation community and its members. On the other hand, we know that increased transparency and improved financial reporting leads to increased investor confidence and ultimately a stronger economy. That is why it is essential that such information be easily accessible, not only to first nations residents, but also to the broader Canadian public.
The publication of financial information will make it easier for analysis and comparisons to be done by a wider group of people, including academics, the media, economists, investors, and the general public, as is the case with information provided by other governments in Canada.
A question that came up during second reading of this bill was whether the public disclosure of financial statements of band-owned businesses would undermine their competitiveness. The simple answer to this is no. Bill C-27 would not require each individual business owned by the band to publish its detailed financial statements. Instead, Bill C-27 would require the publication of the audited consolidated financial statements of the first nation as a whole, which would include any entities controlled by the first nation, including band-owned businesses. I emphasize that this is in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and rules that already apply to government-owned businesses across Canada. These statements are highly aggregated and should not reveal any proprietary information that would undermine their competitiveness.
We are reviewing the language of the bill and are receptive to clarification, consistent with matching the spirit and intent of the bill.
I also want to take this opportunity to be absolutely clear on the fact that this proposed legislation would not create any additional paperwork for first nations governments. They already produce audited consolidated financial statements each year, which are audited by independent, accredited professional auditors, as a requirement of their funding agreements with my department. This bill is not requiring anything new.
Similarly, what we are asking of chiefs and councillors is no different from what we ask of ourselves as parliamentarians. For example, the Government of Canada posts its financial statements on the Internet, and all of us, as members of Parliament, now fully disclose our salaries and special allowances to the public, as required under the Parliament of Canada Act and the Salaries Act. Canadians can easily access this information and more, since the Federal Accountability Act has increased the public's access to information about government activities.
Provincial and territorial governments have adopted similar practices, and the vast majority of them have legislation that requires municipal governments to make these documents public as well.
In short, first nations governments are the only governments in Canada that do not currently have a legislated requirement to make basic financial information public. This bill proposes to address this gap.
Now, many first nations are already posting their financial statements. I'm familiar with a number of first nations that are practising financial transparency and accountability. However, not all first nations communities have taken these steps. This bill will ensure that all first nations citizens can expect the same access to financial information in their communities.
As an example, since the private member's bill on this issue, Bill C-575, in the last Parliament, my department has been monitoring how many first nations post their financial information on the Internet. In March 2011, for example, 291 first nations had community websites, and only 13 of these disclosed salary and/or honoraria information. In September 2012, there were 403 first nations with websites, and 19 of those disclosed salary information. This demonstrates that a growing number of first nations see the benefits of being open about this information.
We expect that once this bill becomes law, and posting financial information becomes the norm for first nations, as it is for all other governments in Canada, many first nations will not only meet the expectations of the legislation but will surpass them. These are the communities that will benefit most from this legislation.
Mr. Chair, Bill C-27 fully addresses the point that not all first nations have websites. A first nation will not be required to have its own website as a result of this bill. If a first nation were not able to publish the information electronically itself, it could ask another organization to post it on the community's behalf. Alternatively, the first nation could ask my department to post the information on its behalf. However, we should be clear that having these documents published on a website does not fulfill a first nation government's obligation to make copies of financial information available to its members. Although we continue to make progress on increasing Internet connectivity in first nations, many first nation members still do not have easy access to the Internet. As a result, first nations will need to find ways to make this information available to their members who do not have Internet access. Many already do this either by distributing printed copies to households or by making the information available in readily accessible locations in the community, including band offices.
As I mentioned at the outset, my department receives many requests each year from first nations members seeking assistance in obtaining basic financial information from their own government. First nations citizens should not have to go to the minister for this information. It would be more appropriate for first nations citizens to obtain this information directly from their band councils. This bill would provide first nations with the tools they need to access this information and ultimately lessen my role as the minister, which is consistent with my desire to lessen ministerial intervention in what should be community-based decision-making.
Mr. Chair, this bill does not propose radical measures. They are the minimum that citizens should expect in a democracy. First nations residents have the same expectations in this regard as other citizens, other Canadians.
Bill C-27 will result in increased public trust, both from community members and Canadians at large. This will translate into increased business opportunity. This bill will help to assure potential investors that they can safely enter into joint financial agreements and business undertakings with first nations. This will contribute to social and economic improvements in the lives and livelihoods of first nations members.
Mr. Chair, I'm happy to have had this opportunity to speak to the committee. Bill C-27 is a landmark bill that is long overdue. It will bring many benefits to first nations communities and encourage self-sufficiency.
I would be pleased to answer questions at this time.
Extension of Sitting Hours
June 11th, 2012 / 3:25 p.m.
Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
That, pursuant to Standing Order 27, the ordinary hour of daily adjournment shall be 12 midnight, commencing on Monday, June 11, 2012, and concluding on Friday, June 22, 2012, but not including Friday, June 15, 2012.
Today I rise to make the case for the government's motion to extend the working hours of this House until midnight for the next two weeks. This is of course a motion made in the context of the Standing Orders, which expressly provide for such a motion to be made on this particular day once a year.
Over the past year, our government's top priority has remained creating jobs and economic growth.
Job creation and economic growth have remained important priorities for our government.
Under the government's economic action plan, Canada's deficits and taxes are going down; investments in education, skills training, and research and innovation are going up; and excessive red tape and regulations are being eliminated.
As the global economic recovery remains fragile, especially in Europe, Canadians want their government to focus on what matters most: jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity. This is what our Conservative government has been doing.
On March 29, the Minister of Finance delivered economic action plan 2012, a comprehensive budget that coupled our low-tax policy with new actions to promote jobs and economic growth.
The 2012 budget proposed measures aimed at putting our finances in order, increasing innovation and creating suitable and applicable legislation in the area of resource development in order to promote a good, stable investment climate.
The budget was debated for four days and was adopted by the House on April 4. The Minister of Finance then introduced Bill C-38, Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act, the 2012 budget implementation bill. The debate at second reading of Bill C-38 was the longest debate on a budget implementation bill in at least two decades, and probably the longest ever.
On May 14, after seven days of debate, Bill C-38 was passed at second reading.
The bill has also undergone extensive study in committee. The Standing Committee on Finance held in-depth hearings on the bill. The committee also created a special subcommittee for detailed examination of the bill's responsible resource development provisions. All told, this was the longest committee study of any budget implementation bill for at least the last two decades, and probably ever.
We need to pass Bill C-38 to implement the urgent provisions of economic action plan 2012. In addition to our economic measures, our government has brought forward and passed bills that keep the commitments we made to Canadians in the last election.
In a productive, hard-working and orderly way, we fulfilled long-standing commitments to give marketing freedom to western Canadian grain farmers, to end the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry, and to improve our democracy by moving every province closer to the principle of representation by population in the House of Commons.
However, in the past year our efforts to focus on the priorities of Canadians have been met with nothing but delay and obstruction tactics by the opposition. In some cases, opposition stalling and delaying tactics have meant that important bills are still not yet law. That is indeed regrettable.
In the case of Bill C-11, the copyright modernization act, a bill that will help to create good, high-paying jobs in Canada's creative and high-tech sectors, this House has debated the bill on 10 days. We heard 79 speeches on it before it was even sent to committee. This is, of course, on top of similar debate that occurred in previous Parliaments on similar bills.
It is important for us to get on with it and pass this bill for the sake of those sectors of our economy, to ensure that Canada remains competitive in a very dynamic, changing high-tech sector in the world, so that we can have Canadian jobs and Canadian leadership in that sector.
Bill C-24 is the bill to implement the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. It has also been the subject of numerous days of debate, in fact dozens and dozens of speeches in the House, and it has not even made it to committee yet.
Bill C-23 is the Canada-Jordan economic growth and prosperity act. It also implements another important job-creating free trade agreement.
All three of these bills have actually been before this place longer than for just the last year. As I indicated, they were originally introduced in previous Parliaments. Even then, they were supported by a majority of members of this House and were adopted and sent to committee. However, they are still not law.
We are here to work hard for Canadians. Adopting today's motion would give the House sufficient time to make progress on each of these bills prior to the summer recess. Adopting today's motion would also give us time to pass Bill C-25, the pooled registered pension plans act. It is a much-needed piece of legislation that would give Canadians in small businesses and self-employed workers yet another option to help support them in saving for their retirement. Our government is committed to giving Canadians as many options as possible to secure their retirement and to have that income security our seniors need. This is another example of how we can work to give them those options.
In addition to these bills that have been obstructed, opposed or delayed one way or another by the opposition, there are numerous bills that potentially have support from the opposition side but still have not yet come to a vote. By adding hours to each working day in the House over the next two weeks, we would allow time for these bills to come before members of Parliament for a vote. These include: Bill C-12, safeguarding Canadians' personal information act; and Bill C-15, strengthening military justice in the defence of Canada act. I might add, that bill is long overdue as our military justice system is in need of these proposed changes. It has been looking for them for some time. It is a fairly small and discrete bill and taking so long to pass this House is not a testament to our productivity and efficiency. I hope we will be able to proceed with that.
Bill C-27 is the first nations financial transparency act, another step forward in accountability. Bill C-28 is the financial literacy leader act. At a time when we are concerned about people's financial circumstances, not just countries' but individuals', this is a positive step forward to help people improve their financial literacy so all Canadians can face a more secure financial future. Bill C-36 is the protecting Canada's seniors act which aims to prevent elder abuse. Does it not make sense that we move forward on that to provide Canadian seniors the protection they need from those very heinous crimes and offences which have become increasingly common in news reports in recent years?
Bill C-37 is the increasing offenders' accountability for victims act. This is another major step forward for readjusting our justice system which has been seen by most Canadians as being for too long concerned only about the rights and privileges of the criminals who are appearing in it, with insufficient consideration for the needs of victims and the impact of those criminal acts on them. We want to see a rebalancing of the system and that is why Bill C-37 is so important.
Of course, we have bills that have already been through the Senate, and are waiting on us to deal with them. Bill S-2, which deals with matrimonial real property, which would give fairness and equality to women on reserve, long overdue in this country. Let us get on with it and give first nations women the real property rights they deserve. Then there is Bill S-6, first nations electoral reform, a provision we want to see in place to advance democracy. Bill S-8 is the safe drinking water for first nations act; and Bill S-7 is the combatting terrorism act.
As members can see, there is plenty more work for this House to do. As members of Parliament, the least we can do is put in a bit of overtime and get these important measures passed.
In conclusion, Canada's economic strength, our advantage in these uncertain times, and our stability also depend on political stability and strong leadership. Across the world, political gridlock and indecision have led to economic uncertainty and they continue to threaten the world economy. That is not what Canadians want for their government. Our government is taking action to manage the country's business in a productive, hard-working and orderly fashion. That is why all members need to work together in a time of global economic uncertainty to advance the important bills I have identified, before we adjourn for the summer.
I call on all members to support today's motion to extend the working hours of this House by a few hours for the next two weeks. For the members opposite, not only do I hope for their support in this motion, I also hope I can count on them to put the interests of Canadians first and work with this government to pass the important bills that remain before us.
First Nations Elections Act
May 4th, 2012 / 12:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Message from the Senate
April 24th, 2012 / 4:45 p.m.
The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie
Before resuming debate, I must inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill S-6, An Act respecting the election and term of office of chiefs and councillors of certain First Nations and the composition of council of those First Nations, to which the concurrence of the House is desired.
March 6th, 2012 / 3:30 p.m.
Vancouver Island North
John Duncan Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development
Thank you very much, Chairman.
I appreciate this opportunity to discuss supplementary estimates (C) for fiscal year 2011-12 and the main estimates for fiscal year 2012-13 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. This committee has an important role in reviewing the department's expenditures.
The amounts listed in both sets of estimates represent investments that support this government's larger approach to improving the quality of life of aboriginal peoples and northerners.
I will touch on other aspects of our government's approach in a moment, but I'd like to begin by addressing a few items in supplementary estimates (C) for 2011-12. These estimates include initiatives totalling slightly more than $70 million.
The largest single amount, $47.4 million, involves the emergency management assistance program. These funds are needed to reimburse costs incurred on reserve by provincial, territorial, and emergency management organizations. These organizations provided response and recovery services on reserves following floods in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Alberta, and wildfires in Ontario and Alberta.
The second-largest item included in supplementary estimates (C) is $5.1 million for acquisition of fisheries licences by Maa-nulth First Nations and commercial crab licences by Tsawwassen First Nation. This investment honours commitments by Canada during the negotiations that led to the Maa-nulth and Tsawwassen final agreements. Those are British Columbia treaties.
The main estimates for fiscal year 2012-13 forecast department expenditures of approximately $7.8 billion. This is a net increase of $429 million, or 5.8%, over the main estimates for 2011-12.
This is partly accounted for by an increase of $286 million in the cashflow for the negotiation, settlement, and implementation of specific and comprehensive claims, primarily for the settlement of the Coldwater-Narrows specific claim. As you are aware, our government has prioritized addressing the backlog of such grievances, some having been unresolved for decades. We've made excellent progress in this regard.
The details of forecasted expenditures for the main estimates are available to you. I can also assure you that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada will continue to make strategic and targeted investments that respond to the needs of aboriginal people and northerners, while at the same time ensuring that resources are aligned with priorities. We will continue to actively monitor resource pressures and demographic growth pressures.
Mr. Chair, the investments listed in both sets of estimates represent only one of the means this government has to support northerners and aboriginal peoples in improving their quality of life and achieving their significant potential within a strong Canada. Legislation is another important tool, as the members of this committee understand very well.
This government has a number of legislative initiatives under way, both in the House of Commons and the other place, and I look to the members of this committee to advocate for passage of these important proposals.
For instance, last November we introduced Bill C-27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. This proposed legislation supports democratic, transparent, and accountable first nation governments by requiring that chiefs and councillors publish their salaries and expenses.
On December 6, Bill S-6, the First Nations Elections Act, was introduced in the Senate. This legislation addresses long-standing issues with the current election system under the Indian Act and is nearing the end of a thorough review by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
Bill S-2, the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act, has passed through the Senate and is now awaiting second reading in the House.
Just last week we introduced Bill S-8, legislation proposing a mechanism to safeguard the quality of drinking water in first nation communities, and committing in the bill to work with first nations on the development of the regulations.
Also as part of our legislative agenda, we are continuing to move forward with legislative and regulatory changes to modernize the federal regulatory system for project reviews through the action plan to improve northern regulatory regimes.
Partnership, whether legislative, policy, or program, is another key component of this government's approach. The shared goals prioritize supporting northerners and aboriginal peoples to participate more fully in Canada's prosperity.
I'm pleased to report significant progress. Through ongoing devolution and self-government negotiations, Canada continues to work with partners to create practical, innovative, and efficient governance models. For example, negotiations continue between the Government of Canada and Government of the Northwest Territories towards a final devolution agreement. This will be an important step in the political and economic development of the Northwest Territories.
International Polar Year is another example of a successful initiative that has created important partnerships for Canada with an emphasis on our north. The strength of these relationships will be demonstrated when, between April 22 and 27, the Government of Canada will welcome the world to Montreal for the International Polar Year closing conference. Over 2,500 participants will attend, including leading polar scientists, aboriginal leaders, Arctic community members, industry representatives, and policy- and decision-makers in order to review the work that has been undertaken and to discuss the way forward for advancing Arctic science.
Partnership, of course, takes many forms. We are also continuing to work alongside the Assembly of First Nations through the Canada and first nations joint action plan. A growing spirit of collaboration was evident during the crown and first nations gathering held earlier this year, in which all participants declared their intention to go beyond the joint action plan and set the context for change. This spirit is also reflected in a series of practical agreements that address specific issues, such as on-reserve education and child and family services.
Seven tripartite education agreements are now in place across the country. The most recent agreement was concluded in British Columbia earlier this year, and builds on existing partnerships in that province. It will provide first nations students in British Columbia with access to quality education programs, whether they attend school on or off reserve.
To inspire further progress, on June 21 last year the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations launched an independent national panel on first nation elementary and secondary education. The panel's role was to lead an engagement process and provide recommendations on how to improve first nations elementary and secondary education. On February 8, the national panel released its final report. We are reviewing the recommendations in the report carefully and are considering the next steps on education reform.
Mr. Chair, there can be no doubt that our government recognizes the importance of a sound education for all Canadians. We recently demonstrated our commitment to progress on education through our support of the honourable member for Manicouagan's opposition day motion on first nation education.
Improving education outcomes is crucial to making progress on a critical issue: economic and social development. The reality is that barriers continue to hinder the full participation of aboriginal people in Canada's economy, so we are also continuing to turn to willing partners, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, in both the public and private sectors, to find workable solutions to these obstacles to economic development.
The federal framework for aboriginal economic development introduced in 2009 is a case in point. Developed in partnership with stakeholders, the framework is a business-oriented opportunity and results-driven policy approach.
By means of the framework, we are working toward a more systematic identification of economic opportunities for aboriginal people, a greater leveraging of partnerships, and a modernization of land management regimes. As this committee is aware through its ongoing work, that is why, in budget 2011, our government took action to reallocate $20 million over two years to respond to the growing interest from first nation leaders in participating in the first nations land management regime.
As a result of this investment, we recently announced that 18 additional first nations will be participating in the regime. New signatory first nations will be able to opt out of the land-related sections of the Indian Act and consequently manage their land, resources, and environment according to their own land codes, laws, and policies. They will now be able to take advantage of greater economic development opportunities at the speed of business.
Ultimately, this government aims to ensure that all Canadians, regardless of where they live—north or south, on or off reserve—can share in and contribute to Canada's prosperity. Both estimates support existing programs, partnerships, and legislative projects. I am confident that the items under review will lead to further progress for aboriginal peoples, northerners, and all Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll do my best to answer any questions that members of the committee may have pertaining to supplementary estimates (C) and the mains.