Evidence of meeting #45 for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was first.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

5:05 p.m.

Policy Analyst, Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Joseph Richard Quesnel

For this particular bill?

I'm sorry, I'm just trying to understand completely.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

I understand that there was something else you were eager to respond to as well, which is fine, and I'd give you that opportunity. You did seem like you had something to share with us there.

But yes, that was specifically the question, I think, that Mr. Rickford had put.

5:05 p.m.

Policy Analyst, Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Joseph Richard Quesnel

One question I was asked earlier, I guess by Mr. Wilks, was about the benefit to leaders, to members, and to Canadian taxpayers. That's something that I can quickly remember that I was kind of....

The relationship we're looking at right now is not what some would term the ideal situation of self-government. That's why, when we talk about government to government, or nation to nation, when we start using that language, are we talking about what exists now or are we talking about a theoretical future?

It's important to know that Bill C-27 specifically excludes first nations who have a self-government agreement, so we can't talk about those communities that have these kinds of measures in place. Under the current Indian Act, the lines of accountability run from the chief and council to the minister and the ministry. Looking at that situation, you have to recreate relationships between members and leaders. That's what John was talking about with the tax relationship.

But on a basic level, having some kind of disclosure does try to recreate some kind of governance relationship that doesn't exist fully under the Indian Act so that band chief and council can be accountable to their members directly. That's the benefit to them. They have that sense that they're accountable, and they can go to their members and say that.

To members, same thing: it recreates that relationship that the Indian Act doesn't have and that the Indian Act undermined when it was first introduced.

When it comes to the Canadian public, it goes back to the thing about the funds—namely, are they being well spent? If you have a certain proportion of your money going towards salaries and whatnot, that's an issue that a lot of members want to know about. There are scarce funds on first nations reserves, so they want to know that information.

First nations do, and also taxpayers; we have a moral responsibility, as Canadians, to first nations, to the indigenous inhabitants of this country, and we want to make sure that the money we're sending is being well spent and is actually going to help. That's the benefit to them.

I'm just kind of.... Maybe the question came to you while I was speaking. Sorry.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

I wanted to give you that opportunity because you seemed eager.

I had a couple of questions I wanted to pose to Mr. Graham as well. If you don't mind, if we do have some time I'll come back to you.

Mr. Graham, obviously our government recognizes how important accountability and transparency are. It's certainly one of the key things that we want to ensure to a greater degree on the federal level. You can look at the accountability act we brought in when we first came into government as a good example of our commitment to accountability and to transparency. This is what this bill seeks to do.

Can you comment on this, as you've had some experience as a consultant? I would like to hear your thoughts on the relationship and how important the relationship is between accountability and transparency and effective governance. Can you comment a little on that relationship and how important that is?

5:10 p.m.

Senior Executive, Patterson Creek Consulting

John Graham

One of the points I made was the difficulty of achieving good accountability in the public sector. I'll elaborate a bit on that.

As I said before, accountability a number of decades ago was really looked at from the point of view of the propriety of spending money. Was the money really spent for education the way it was supposed to be? Now we're into much more of a results-oriented management-type universe, where the accountability story has to be not only was the money spent where it was supposed to be spent in terms of the sources, but did it get good outcomes. Are we getting good education for the dollar we're spending?

That's a very difficult question for any government to answer, just because so many factors besides the education system produce good education. It's not simply because you have teachers in classrooms, but there are a lot of other factors, parents and the like, that go into making a good education system. Accountability is no easy thing.

The other thing about accountability is that it's not an absolute, sadly. You can put too much store on accountability and essentially have derogatory effects on other good government principles. For example, if you put so much store on accountability, you're likely to reduce performance. You're going to have so many people worried about the risk of somehow being labelled as some person who has gone beyond the bounds that there isn't any kind of entrepreneurial spirit within the public service. It's not an absolute.

Another problem with accountability is that it can deal adversely with legitimacy. You have so many bad stories coming out of accountability institutions that all politicians are somehow seen as stupid or corrupt. That's the other problem with accountability. If you put too much emphasis on accountability, you're going to have questions about the legitimacy of politicians and the legitimacy of public service. That's why accountability in some sense is so difficult. It's not an absolute, and this results-based management makes it very difficult to have a compelling, cogent, accountability story.

In summary, transparency is obviously critical to good accountability. I don't think there's any question about that. It's the handmaiden to good accountability. It's not a panacea that's going to suddenly get you to nirvana or some promised land.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Mr. Graham.

We'll turn to Ms. Murray now for five minutes.

October 22nd, 2012 / 5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Graham, for that comment about putting so much store on accountability that you can have an adverse impact on productivity or results.

Of course, accountability and transparency are principles that everyone around this table considers to be important. However, I want to go back to this own-source revenue.

I'm familiar with first nations in urban areas who have chosen to utilize some of the properties they own to invest in businesses that can produce wealth and benefits for their community. That seems very parallel to a private sector business. The shareholders are the band members. They have management that on their behalf is creating wealth for the community. If I'm a private sector business owner, I am accountable to the shareholders—the minority shareholders, the partners. I am not accountable to the public for what investment I'm making and the funds that are being made by that investment.

What you're advocating for here, with this own-source revenue being posted for anyone in the world to see, appears to me to be a completely different standard than would make sense in a case where the band has their own business that they have purchased or invested in with their own assets, not a transfer from government.

I'm still trying to understand how that makes sense. You, yourself, have acknowledged that can actually impact on productivity. If one of the keys to addressing the gap of first nations versus non-first nations, in terms of economic measures and all of the measures surrounding that, is the ability to have an attachment to the 21st century economy, how are we helping that by putting on this level of scrutiny, which is above and beyond what we would do with that kind of enterprise in non-aboriginal hands?

5:15 p.m.

Senior Executive, Patterson Creek Consulting

John Graham

Don't get me wrong. Just because you take one small step in accountability, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to have an adverse effect on performance. I'm saying that there is a balancing effect here. All good governance principles are not absolutes, so you have to be careful that when you move in one direction you're not providing something adverse in the other. I guess that's what your question is all about.

All I would say is that if you look again at the federal-provincial relationship—the government-to-government relationship we have in a federation—own-source revenue is a critical factor in terms of equalization payments. It's part of the fabric of our country, and indeed part of our constitution. I think inevitably we will be moving towards an era where first nations own-source revenue is going to be an important part of the transfer mechanisms between the federal government and first nations.

Would you agree with that?

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

I understand the point you've just made. However, that really does not tell me why it's imperative for this federal government to make sure that every single citizen in Canada who wants to can inspect the details of private enterprise that the band is engaged in.

The question I would ask is, if economic benefits and an attachment to the 21st century economy are key to the well-being of first nations—and I think most of us agree they are—how does this improve the economy of those first nations? How does it support their aspirations to be independently creating that attachment to the 21st century economy to have a level above and beyond anybody else in the private sector in public disclosure of the internal workings of their enterprise?

5:15 p.m.

Senior Executive, Patterson Creek Consulting

John Graham

I think if you looked at any provincial government, or indeed any municipal government, their reporting requirements surely would include reporting on any kind of commercial ventures. For example, the Government of Canada has several ventures that make a lot of money. The Bank of Canada, which I used to work for, makes a fair amount of money by various means, and that's part of the Government of Canada's accounts.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

I will contest what you just said, because when you think about the Canada-China partnership agreement that's just been signed, there is no transparency. It is not being discussed in Parliament. Nothing has been disclosed, and in fact, when I asked a question today, the minister—

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Your time is up, and I think we're now talking about something that's—

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

No, it's a totally fair response to what Mr. Graham just said. The argument the minister made was that it was necessary for—

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Chris Warkentin

Ms. Murray, your time is up.

Maybe you and Mr. Graham could continue this discussion later. I'll now turn to Mr. Rickford for five minutes.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I just want to point out to our panels today, and certainly to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, that of the four suggestions or potential for amendments that you have made, one of them I think deals with what the member started out talking about before we got into free trade agreements—maybe she's on another committee, I'm not sure, and it just all came flooding back to her quickly.

Importantly, and with respect, it deals with ensuring funds the chiefs and councillors receive for sitting on tribal council boards, provincial bodies, and other band partnerships. We've heard from Whitecap Dakota First Nation, a very successful and sophisticated community in terms of business, and they've tabled some amendments that perhaps my colleague, in fairness, wasn't privy to that dealt with some of the issues around business enterprises, focusing squarely, of course, on the benefits to the elected politicians for their reporting requirements.

Furthermore, this particular committee that I referred to has gone on to develop a commission or committee that establishes the wages. I believe one of the witnesses alluded to that in his speech. I find that interesting.

Joseph and/or Colin, through your work, are you aware of situations—I think you mentioned one—where this bill, had it been in place, could have improved a situation, a set of circumstances in a first nation community? Are you able to give concrete examples?

Joe, we'll start with you. I know you've talked to a lot of folks.