House of Commons Hansard #210 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was public.

Topics

Code of Conduct
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Before I do that, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester, Lewisporte Marine Terminal.

Getting back to the business raised by the deputy whip, does the House give its consent for the proposal of the deputy whip?

Code of Conduct
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed

Code of Conduct
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

June 20th, 2002 / 4:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

moved that Bill C-399, an act to establish a first nations ombudsman and a first nations auditor to assist with administrative and financial problems, be read the second time and referred to committee.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of grassroots natives across the country and grassroots action committees in all provinces that are calling for accountability, equality and democracy I am pleased to once again bring forward a bill that they and I feel would address the serious problems that exist on many of our reserves.

To prevent the rhetoric from flowing from that side of the House I would point out that I recognize, as do many grassroots people across the country, that a number of reserves are doing an excellent job of looking after the welfare of their communities. We commend them for that. However a great many, far too many, are suffering a great deal of problems. That is what my bill is attempting to address.

Part one of the bill would establish the office of first nations ombudsman to assist persons dealing with first nations, first nations dealing with each other, or first nations dealing with the Government of Canada if they felt they were being dealt with unfairly, unreasonably or with unreasonable delay. The ombudsman could investigate complaints and report to the minister on complaints that were not satisfactorily resolved. The ombudsman could propose changes to first nations administrative policies and practices. If a first nation failed to change its policies and practices at the suggestion of the ombudsman, the ombudsman could make a report to the minister which would then have to be laid before parliament.

Part two of the bill provides for an official from the office of the Auditor General of Canada to be appointed as first nations auditor. This individual would carry out audits of first nations communities that were insolvent or in which impropriety in fiscal management was alleged.

The first nations auditor would not be responsible for auditing all first nations. His or her duties would be limited to the terms of this paragraph of the bill. The auditor could propose changes in first nations financial management practices and make reports in the same manner as the ombudsman.

As many members know, I spent the better part of a couple years travelling across the country and in virtually every province in the land. I visited with grassroots people and watched the coalition calling for accountability grow under the leadership of some very fine people throughout the country. They included people like Leona Freed of the coalition from Manitoba, Laura Deedza from Alberta who worked hard to try to bring about accountability, Roy Littlechief and Greg Twoyoungman. I could go on and on. There is a long list of grassroots aboriginal people who absolutely deplore the conditions of the reserves and whose cries and pleas are going unheard. They are looking for someone to come to their assistance.

Why put forward a bill like this? These people are calling for equality. We should look at it from this light: If members of the House have a grievance against any business or government we always have an avenue in which to go. An ombudsman is at our disposal to look into our grievances or concerns and try to do something about them. This is true for every citizen of the country except natives living on reserves. They do not have such an avenue. That is total inequality. I am sure all members would agree they should be able to go to someone.

What do they do in the meantime? The actions that take place on a lot of these reserves remind me of the actions that takes place in this establishment. Leaked documents are provided through some of the people providing services in the administrative buildings on these reserves. They get their hands on some of these documents. They would like to do something about it.

They will not go to the chief and council because of fear of reprisal or fear of being punished for having brought it to their attention. They could go to the Indian affairs department to raise these concerns but Indian affairs quickly washes its hands of any responsibility and advises them to take it to their chief and council. They go round and round with no one really addressing the problem. Then every once in a while some of these documents are serious enough that they might warrant criminal investigation.

Let me give an example of that and it is one that I brought up before. It amazed me that this episode did not go anywhere.

Documents that came out of the welfare department of a particular reserve were provided to two individuals from that reserve. The documents listed the welfare payments made to people who lived on the reserve. As we looked down the list, several welfare payments of $300, $400 and $700 were made. Then all of a sudden there were two that showed up, one for $9,000 and one for $8,000.

I thought it was rather unusual that there would be that big of a spread so I asked who was getting paid the big dollars and for what. That is when they produced the other documents that went along with this. The documents were death certificates for individuals whose names had been on that welfare list. They had been dead for 13 years but payments were still being made to that name. That sounded a little suspicious to me. I am not a rocket scientist, and I am certainly not a policeman, but I thought “Good grief, dead people are receiving welfare cheques. Isn't that amazing.”

I convinced the people from the reserve who brought these documents to me that we should present them to the police. We went to the local detachment and presented them. The sergeant and some of his staff went over the documents and agreed with us that this was very suspicious and would probably warrant an investigation. However they said it had to go to the police force that looked after commercial crimes. That was the category it came under. We left it with the commercial crimes department, believing there would be some action.

About four months later I personally received a call from the sergeant of the detachment where I had taken the documents. He said that he had been informed by commercial crimes that all investigations with regard to that matter were being dropped. I was a little concerned about that so I got hold of the commercial crimes department. I asked if somebody from the department could please explain to me why it was being dropped. I said that it seemed to me a lot more was happening.

These are the exact words I heard over the phone, “You don't me, you don't know my name but I'm going to tell you this, Mr. Thompson. I've been with this department for a long time, I'm going to retire in a couple of years and I'm not going to do anything to hurt my pension. But we have received orders from the ivory towers in Ottawa that we are to not pursue this matter any more, we are to drop it and we have to follow our orders”.

In other words someone from the solicitor general's office told the Indian affairs office or the Indian affairs office told the solicitor general's office to pull these people back and to stop the investigation. These people went to a lot of work to provide information. Something should have come of it but it was stopped dead in its tracks. This is just one example of story after story.

Members of parliament who have Indian reserves in their ridings have heard those kinds of stories from grassroots people on the reserves. If members are not doing anything about it, they should be ashamed of themselves.

That is the purpose of the bill. It would provide an avenue for grassroots ordinary natives who live on a reserve to get the kind of help they deserve because every other citizen in the land receives it. They deserve it too but they have no avenue.

Then we have Bill C-61. The government says that it will solve the problem. The complaints from the reserves are of corruption, mismanagement, stealing of money and councils not looking after what they are supposed to be looking after. We are calling on that mob over there to address that kind of a problem? Every day we see example after example of corruption, mismanagement, wasting tax dollars and that mob of people say they will look after the first nations where the very same complaints have arisen. What a joke. Good grief a person who has had 15 divorces might as well be a marriage counsellor or cat might as well babysit an aquarium full of a bunch of tropical fish.

Nothing is taken seriously over there but yet they say that they will do something about these problems. Does the House know why this is not going to work? Because there are two sides every time an ombudsman is involved. If one side appoints the ombudsman or the auditor general, guess who that appointed person will go to to seek advice. They are not independent or arm's length. They are appointed by the power. Above all things, just like the Liberal Government of Canada, it must protect the power. That is why it acts like it acts. That is why the Liberals do what they do. It is not for the benefit of Canadians. It is because of their egos and their selfishness.

There will be a commission to see that this all goes well. Who will be on the commission? None other than those who are appointed by our fine Prime Minister who has set such good examples over the last nine years. He will appoint the members, just like he appoints the parole board and the refugee board. That is more patronage. The first requirement is, “Are you a good Liberal? Have you paid your dues? By the way, if you are a Liberal, what can you do or what do you know?”

What a farce to call on a government like this to look after what has been living conditions of squalor for literally decades and decades. Nothing has ever happened. Four years ago I first introduced this kind of a measure. Even though I had a lot of support from backbenchers from all parties, nothing happened. They were supporting it because they had reserves in their areas and they knew what I was talking about. They wanted to see it fixed. It was a votable motion and almost carried.

This bill is not votable. Why is it not votable? Are native issues not serious enough? Do they not deserve some accountability? Do they not deserve equality? Do they not deserve true democracy on their reservations when they have elections instead of the farces that so many of them go through? Who are we to deny that to these people?

We have this great wonderful government that never does anything wrong. Even the Prime Minister has said “If you steal a few million dollars here and there and it is for the unity of the country, then it is okay”. What a rotten attitude.

I only hope that all the voters and taxpayers, whose pockets are being emptied day in and day out, will wake up some day and see to it that that kind of a government will never have a chance to sit in front of them again and be responsible for their money. It is absolutely disgraceful.

The reserves are in squalor. Even the United Nations has recognized them as third world conditions. I call on the members in the House who know what I am talking about to do the right thing. I would request that the bill be made votable and I would ask for unanimous consent to do that at this time.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is there consent to make the bill votable?

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, it will be hard to follow the hon. member's act of statesmanship and debate. I will do my best to be diplomatic.

I would like to make a few remarks concerning Bill C-399 to establish a first nations ombudsman and first nations auditor to assist with administrative and financial problems. While I appreciate and commend my hon. colleague's intentions, or at least some of them in the bill, I have no choice but to express concerns about his proposed solutions to the problems facing first nations and aboriginal communities.

Bill C-399 was drafted with perhaps the best of intentions but does not include all the aspects and solutions of the government's proposed legislation, which was recently referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources for review.

The government's proposal is the product of consultations with thousands of Canadians, analysis by financial and constitutional experts and refinement by a ministerial advisory committee. My esteemed colleague's bill is the result of a more limited approach and, as a result, clearly does not reflect as much in put of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.

The hon. member's bill proposes to establish two new offices, a first nations ombudsman to assist with conflicts that arise concerning first nations and a first nations auditor operating under Canada's auditor general. Creating these offices is clearly in some respects not in the best interests of aboriginal people and could in fact generate more problems. For instance, the proposed bill provides no mechanism for first nations communities to shape the mandates of these new positions.

Under Bill C-399 the roles and responsibilities of a first nations ombudsman and auditor are ambiguous. Consequently, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development could be obliged to intervene directly in the affairs of first nations. The history of ministerial control over the affairs of aboriginal people is not in many respects a happy one. It is clearly in the interests of all Canadians that first nations communities direct their own affairs.

I would also like to point out that the ombudsman model does not allow for the resolution of situations where responsibilities lie with other jurisdictions, such as provincial and territorial governments. Nor does the proposal address areas where responsibilities are shared. We believe that these shortcomings could lead to years of expensive constitutional wrangling.

Finally, Bill C-399 does not provide a framework for increased accountability for first nations governments. Under the proposal, complainants would be encouraged to bring their problems to the attention of the ombudsman, instead of to band councils.

For all those reasons, I have no choice but to choose Bill C-61 instead of my esteemed colleague's proposal. However my decision is easy because the issues of my colleague and more are dealt with in Bill C-61, the first nations governance bill. I will now explain this in more detail.

The proposed act is more comprehensive and would ensure that first nations improve their accountability and transparency in their governance structures and develop impartial mechanisms for redress and disclosure.

The process that led to the government's proposed legislation began more than a year ago and included consultations involving more than 10,000 aboriginal people. Throughout 2001, thousands of Canadians shared their ideas and opinions at community meetings, via a toll free phone line, in letters and through e-mails.

To provide overall guidance, a joint ministerial advisory committee was established, comprised of first nations representatives and government officials. This committee presented its report to the minister for review three months ago.

The legislation now before the committee would overhaul the fundamental relationship between first nations and the Government of Canada. The act would provide tools for first nations governments to manage their communities effectively and become more accountable to their memberships. Impartial, community based redress mechanisms will be established.

As a result, first nations communities will build self-sustaining communities, and ultimately increase the prosperity of all Canadians. In the words of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development “This legislation puts the power to handle community governance affairs where it belongs, in the hands of first nations people”.

I believe the minister captured the essence of the government's proposal. First nations communities will decide how to govern themselves, how to track their finances and how to development their economies.

The proposed legislation offers guidance to first nations communities and includes a series of templates on governance and accounting systems. Should a first nation be unclear on how to avoid a conflict of interest for example, it can adopt the legislation's template quickly and easily.

Bill C-61 enables first nations to design codes for leadership selection, financial management and accountability, and the administration of government, all according to the will of their communities. I am sure everyone recognizes that the key to effective democracy lies in representing the wishes of constituents.

The proposed act establishes standards for the administration of government. Leadership selection for instance must include provisions to ensure majority rule. The act stipulates the number of band council meetings that must be held and indicates how the notice of those meetings must be provided to facilitate the participation of community members. Budgets must be presented and approved annually. The act sets out rules pertaining to conflict of interest, protection of privacy and access to information.

Bill C-61 grants first nations peoples the right to vote on governance codes regardless of whether they live on or off reserve. All band members must have the right of appeal on matters pertaining to band elections and enjoy equal access to band information such as budget documents. They will have an impartial method of redress for administrative decision making.

Of course the proposed legislation is not only about granting rights; it also places obligations on first nations governments. Councils for instance would need to establish impartial methods to deal with complaints about the administration of government and the actions of council. For the first time, the Canadian Human Rights Act would apply to first nations governments.

Aboriginal communities have long struggled to develop prosperous economies. Often the biggest obstacle in their path has been access to capital, startup investment, seed money and new business loans. The proposed act would provide first nations with the legal authority to enter into contracts, acquire property, raise, spend, invest and borrow money.

In short, Bill C-61 would remove the barriers to economic development and would promote self-reliance.

Today first nations administer budgets that often run into the millions of dollars. The Indian Act is silent on financial management and includes no sound fiscal models for aboriginal people. Instead, first nations and aboriginal communities have followed financial models imposed by various government departments and programs. Funding agreements often include requirements to manage money in specific ways. Under the proposed legislation this would change dramatically.

Bill C-61 is just one component of the government's three-pronged legislative agenda to overhaul Canada's relationship with aboriginal people. Other components include the amendments to the First Nations Land Management Act and implementation of the first nations fiscal and statistical infrastructure initiative. All three components are necessary to ensure the ability of first nations communities to fulfill their destinies.

The first nations fiscal and statistical infrastructure initiative will enable first nations communities to establish financial institutions, raise capital for infrastructure projects and collect property taxes. These infrastructure powers are similar to those granted to other governments and would enable first nations to build and maintain roads, water and sewage systems and other types of infrastructure. There are successful precedents in this area.

Under the leadership of the Westbank first nation for instance, a First Nations Finance Authority was created in 1995. Since then several communities have relied upon the finance authority to use debentures and gain access to long term affordable financing. The finance authority has benefited from a partnership with an expert in the field, the Municipal Finance Authority of B.C., which has 30 years of experience and a triple A credit rating.

Aboriginal communities across Canada are keen to follow in the footsteps of the Westbank first nation. All Canadians want to see first nations, aboriginal and northern communities contribute to the prosperity of our nation. We want every Canadian to have both a dream and the ability to make that dream come true. We want every Canadian to be able to control his or her destiny. Bill C-61 is designed to ensure that aboriginal communities can access the resources they need to fulfill their dreams.

I am convinced that all Canadians will benefit, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. I am also sure that all would agree that the government's proposed legislation is a more comprehensive option than is Bill C-399.

Earlier this week members of all parties spoke eloquently in support of sending the government bill to committee. Many hon. members indicated they were keen to help improve the bill. I urge all hon. members to become involved in the review process.

In conclusion, I reiterate that the goals of Bill C-399 are covered more comprehensively in Bill C-61. Therefore, I encourage everyone to vote for Bill C-61 instead of Bill C-399.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is quite fitting to speak to Bill C-399 today, given that tomorrow is National Aboriginal Day.

There is not much that the hon. member for Wild Rose and I see eye to eye on. However, Bill C-399, to establish a first nations ombudsman and a first nations auditor whose job it will be to assist first nations with their administrative and financial problems, is a highly commendable initiative, and I wish to congratulate my colleague from Wild Rose.

The principle of the bill we are discussing appears well structured and should truly address the concerns regarding the day to day operational management concerns expressed by aboriginal communities,

And while the approach proposed by my colleague from the Canadian Alliance contains certain positive elements, I believe some mechanisms are necessary to ensure that the bill is in line with the real aspirations and needs of first nations.

Allow me to explain. First nations communities, through their leaders, have recognized the sometimes flawed management of certain communities.

In my opinion, this is an honourable admission that represents the start of a constructive approach for these communities. The financial and administrative problems of certain nations, while they may be isolated, are still problematic, and real measures must be taken together with the communities involved, obviously, to remedy the situation.

In recent weeks there have been initiatives to give greater autonomy to first nations, to gradually bring them to take full responsibility, with the leadership needed to ensure that it lasts.

There is a clearly defined will among aboriginal peoples to take charge of their destiny, something the government recognizes.

For too long now the government has had a paternalistic, even colonial relationship with first nations, undermining both the ambitions and their communities' potential for development. For decades, the attitude of the federal government should have been one of equals with first nations, one of dialogue nation to nation.

This is what the Government of Quebec realized several years ago, and this openness toward aboriginals was commended by the Grand Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations, Matthew Coon Come, on the occasion of the ratification of the peace of the braves between the Government of Quebec and the Crees of James Bay.

Thus, from a world subjected to the decisions of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development for more than a century, aboriginal nations want to have access to a real level of self-government and to ensure the governance of their communities, in accordance with their culture and their traditional approach. This is also the opinion of the Bloc Quebecois.

The transition may sometimes be slow and difficult, but we are convinced that the results will be better.

This is where the vision of my colleague from the Canadian Alliance comes into play. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, the intent of the member for Wild Rose is to be viewed in a perspective of increased self-government for the first nations.

However, probably unwittingly, he has the same attitude that we deplore in the federal government, by giving too many decision making powers to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and to the governor in council.

The first nations wish for and support the idea of appointing an auditor and an ombudsman. It has be established that the creation of such positions was really necessary.

However, my colleague from Wild Rose wishes for the appointment of these officers by the governor in council, that is by the government, on the recommendation of the minister of Indian affairs, from a list drawn up by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, to whom the first nations would provide a list of candidates.

Do you see the problem here?

Quite a few people are getting to be involved in the appointment process of two people. Of course, I would never want to deprive members of the House of the powers of examination and recommendation. However, I think this process is a little twisted and leaves too much room to the arbitrary power of the minister and the governor in council, that is the government.

You know as well as I do that we must not give too many powers to the government, particularly when it comes to appointments, because Liberals being who they are, they have many friends to reward, which gives us people who are highly qualified to fill such important positions as that of ambassador to Denmark, for example.

What the Bloc Quebecois is proposing and we will be supporting is that the appointment process be a joint process between first nations and the federal government. Period.

For one thing, it would show the minister's good faith and it would maximize the impact of the appointment of the auditor and the ombudsman on the management of aboriginal communities.

There is a clear consensus on the need to appoint these bureaucrats to ensure transparency in the management of aboriginal communities. It would be unfortunate to cloud this consensus by giving what I would call a partisan dimension to the process, since the Liberal minister will surely be unable to resist the temptation to appoint someone who is too close to the government.

What surprises me the most is to see that this kind of proposal comes from the Canadian Alliance.

Either the Alliance acted in good faith to give parliamentarians a greater role in the selection process, which is very praiseworthy but rather harmful in this case or at least contrary to the dominant concept of aboriginal self-government, or the Alliance harbours some negative judgments regarding the first nations' ability to manage their own affairs.

We have to wonder about the real motivations of the Canadian Alliance in proposing such a bill. I honestly prefer to believe it is the first possibility.

That is why the Bloc Quebecois would have voted in favour of the bill at the second reading stage, had it been votable, and would have proposed the necessary amendments to correct these elements of the bill, as I explained, to make the appointment process a joint process between first nations and the federal government.

Members certainly know that the Bloc Quebecois, just like the Government of Quebec, clearly favours an approach based on a nation-to-nation dialogue with first nations.

In fact, this proposal is part of the Bloc Quebecois election platform and is the result of extended consultations with aboriginal groups, so that we can defend their interests just as we do for the whole population of Quebec.

The Bloc Quebecois is committed to creating strong and durable ties with the aboriginals and, in this perspective, we must support their development to benefit from it and to create the fair and dynamic society that we all want.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak tonight to Bill C-399. I feel very comfortable with the debate and the discussion because I have a close relationship with a first nations band in my riding, the Millbrook Band, whose chief is Lawrence Paul.

First, I want to compliment the hon. member for raising the issue of the auditor and the ombudsman proposal. Many first nations bands have problems with negotiations and controlling money. I believe we do have an obligation to ensure that all first nations people are treated fairly, have access to justice and have a fair approach to dealing with the finances of the first nations. Not all do, so the hon. member's proposal may have some merit.

I also want to mention the new Bill C-61. I congratulate the minister for taking a courageous step. This is a very difficult issue to deal with. For years and years not a lot has been done but I believe the bill on the table now deserves a lot of consideration. I applaud the minister for his courage in bringing it forth because it is not an easy subject and not an easy issue to deal with.

I have often felt that not enough has been done. We often deal with first nations issues as they happen. We deal with the symptoms not the root causes of the problems. I believe the new bill starts to do that. I know it will come under a lot of criticism, scrutiny and opposition, but fundamentally it is a good direction and a good start. It will be very interesting to see how it unfolds, how first nations people deal with it and how they respond.

I want to talk for a minute about the Millbrook Band. One of the previous speakers mentioned the Westbank Band and how it could be used as an example for other first nations. I believe the Millbrook Band outside of Truro, Nova Scotia could also be used as a model. Chief Lawrence Paul has done a great deal in economic development to bring a higher standard of living to his people. He has worked very hard to attract businesses and use every asset that he has at his control.

Chief Lawrence Paul and I do not always agree, in fact, quite often we disagree, but I admire him for his spirit, his initiatives and his determination to help his people. He has recently developed what he calls a huge power centre along the Trans-Canada Highway at a very high traffic area in Nova Scotia, and perhaps the highest traffic area. He has attracted a Tim Horton's, an A&W, theatres and an Ainee's Convenience Store to the centre and has plans for many more developments to create jobs and employment for his people. He has also installed an entertainment centre at this location which is a form of entertainment where his band takes in a lot of revenue.

He has also developed a Millbrook fishery. He has two approaches to the fishery. One is that he is involved in the fishery on the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean. He is also involved in the fishery through an agricultural project which is just beginning. This is very innovative, dynamic and very imaginative for a first nations band.

I believe the Millbrook Band has managed its funds well. It has been able to return money to all its residents in the form of scholarships and housing assistance, and in many other areas. Therefore I think the Millbrook Band could be used as a model. It is certainly not perfect but it has done a lot of things right and has done a lot to help its people.

The challenge in the future will be to bring all of the first nations together to agree on this new governance model. It will be difficult because there are over 600 first nations and many are governed under different models and in different ways. The circumstances are completely different from first nation to first nation. Some are very small, some are quite large, some are prosperous and some live in poverty. It will be difficult to find one formula that fits all. Each first nations band will need the flexibility to develop in its own direction. Each band must be transparent and accountable to its people.

The bill we are debating today goes in the direction of ensuring there is accountability and transparency for all first nations people, not just the leaders. This is a critical part of the future for first nations.

Whether it is through Bill C-399 or through the new Bill C-61, we in this party hope the circumstances for first nations people improve. We hope they gain more ability to govern themselves, more control over their own destinies and able to use their resources and their ingenuity, like they have in Millbrook, to improve the quality of life for all natives.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Stockwell Day Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to support my colleague, the member for Wild Rose, on Bill C-399, which is an act to establish a first nations ombudsman and a first nations auditor.

The bill actually reflects Canadian Alliance policy. Canadian Alliance policy is developed by the grassroots members of our party, many of whom are aboriginal Canadians themselves. This particular policy, which reflects and asks for electoral and fiscal accountability at every level of government, is endorsed not only by our grassroots but by aboriginal candidates who ran for us in the last election.

Whenever there is governance, whether it is municipal, provincial, federal or in a non-profit agency, there is a necessity for fiscal and democratic accountability. The existence of an arm's length body or person with the mandate and resources to audit how dollars are being spent, to audit how the democratic process is working within any area of governance and be able to report without prejudice in a transparent manner on progress in those areas, would not only serve to improve the governance but would improve conditions for the people under that governance.

As a former minister of finance I welcome the existence of an auditor general in the province. It gives us an opportunity to actually show that we are handling funds responsibly. It gives us an opportunity to remove suspicion.

In this era in which we all live, it does not matter what area of governance we are talking about, whether it is aboriginal, municipal, provincial or federal, people in positions of government are seen with suspicion. We all are. It is unfortunate but it is a fact of life. Therefore any instrument that can reduce that suspicion and show that we are doing a good job will lead to better governance and better conditions for the people involved.

When an auditor general, for instance, reports on how funds are being expended, the auditor general will not only report if things are going well but, if things are not going well, the auditor general will come out with recommendations which then can be followed, not feared, to provide for even better governance and better management of those dollars. This could result in a supreme compliment to the persons governing that they receive an unbiased report card from an independent, arm's length individual or group who assesses the performance and delivers the report accordingly.

It is just basic human nature. History provides unquestionable evidence that, in every society, every culture and every era, people who are in positions of government will respond to instruments of accountability. Without accountability, over time governing powers at any level will tend to be less vigorous, less motivated and less intense when it comes to delivering the services in the best manner possible. It is not that they set out to deliver at a minimal level. It is just human nature and we need to recognize that.

I want to emphasize that we are not just talking about governance on aboriginal lands or by aboriginal councils. We are talking about governance at any level. This is human nature. It is not just public government either. We can reflect on the private sector and recent developments related to Enron which did not have an independent, arm's length auditor. I am not suggesting an invasion into the market by government instruments, but it is a clear demonstration that this knows no boundaries when it comes to human performance in areas of governance. The situation with Enron was that the auditors were not fully transparent and were less than fully motivated to report what was going on.

Provinces have ethics commissioners in place within their legislatures to make sure that governance is as good as it can be. The House of Commons has not had an independent arm's length ethics commissioner. That is one of the reasons we have seen failings in terms of governance with this body. Remember what we have seen without an ethics commissioner in place in the House of Commons. Today we heard our party's leader go through the list of scandal after scandal and the six RCMP investigations. Much of that could have been avoided had there been an independent arm's length ethics commissioner.

Imagine if there were no auditor general reflecting on the spending of the government. Even with an auditor general in place there was a finance minister who went two years without tabling a budget. That is unheard of. It is certainly unheard of in provincial legislatures. No mayor could get away with that. The chiefs of aboriginal bands could not get away with going two years without tabling a budget, yet it happened right here with an auditor general in place. When it comes to the finances of this body, the auditor general is still asking who is minding the store.

Imagine what kind of shape the federal government would be in without an auditor general. This brings it back to the fact that accountability and transparency move people to respond and to govern at a higher level. There is no exception. It is a basic element of human nature.

As a former minister responsible for aboriginal affairs at the provincial level I worked with aboriginal people. I can say that most of the aboriginal people in governance that I worked with wanted to be seen as being responsible and most of them were. Any of us are less responsive without knowing that we are being monitored and that there will be a clear and transparent report on that monitoring. On aboriginal bands when it comes to spending, we are talking about huge amounts of money.

I believe that most of those managers are well meaning as I believe at any level of government they are well meaning, but good intentions alone are not enough. In my experience as a minister of finance I can say that if I and all the people with whom I worked did not know for sure that we were being audited, yes we had good intentions, yes we would hope to always respond and govern in the best manner possible, but it is human nature to get a little sloppy from time to time if we know we are not being encouraged to perform our best at all times.

There would be other benefits in having an auditor general and an ombudsman. It would remove the suspicion of doubt under which those of us in governance are often held. It would lead to people in governance being acknowledged as good managers. It would improve the relations between those who are governing and those who are governed. It would deal with the inevitable so-called bad apples that are in any barrel. Whether we are talking about federal, provincial, municipal or aboriginal governments, there are bad apples in every barrel. They need to be spotted and weeded out so that the good ones can be seen as being good managers and can thrive.

An auditor general would go a long way to help accomplish that process. As for an ombudsman, as Lord Acton said, it is just human nature regardless of culture or ethnicity, that power has the tendency to corrupt and absolute power can corrupt absolutely. People who are being governed need an independent source to go to when they feel that governance is not happening the way it should.

The Westbank band, which happens to be in my own constituency of Okanagan—Coquihalla, is an example of governance which may not be perfect but it is good governance that delivers for the sake of its people. If we had an auditor general, if we had an ombudsman in place, we would see improved management as good as some of it always is. We would see the bad apples being weeded out. We would see those leaders being held in higher esteem. We would see better relations between the leaders and their people. We would see improved conditions for the people.

I am sure we all want to see an increased standard of living for all people in this nation, including aboriginal people. I am sure all members will support the bill to see that happen.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Dave Chatters Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I did not originally intend to speak to the bill, but some of the things I heard have motivated me to speak in support of my colleague. I was disturbed by the comments made by the member for Yukon and his proposal that Bill C-60 would solve all the problems we face with accountability in aboriginal communities.

I concur with my two colleagues that many aboriginal bands are run well and are accountable to their members. I have had many of the same experiences as my colleague for Wild Rose. I have accompanied band members to the RCMP commercial crimes unit and to the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development asking for help to deal with their problems. Both of those institutions either could not or would not provide the assistance we were looking for.

Bill C-60 proposes that the band appoint an ombudsman so people in the band would be able to go to this ombudsman if they have problems with what the chief and council are doing and need to appeal. That is ludicrous.

Those of us who have lived our lives among Indian bands know that an Indian band is a tribe or an extended family. Most individuals living on the reserve are related to each other. If there is a complaint against the chief or council for some action taken on the reserve and someone goes to the band ombudsman, that ombudsman is likely to be a brother, son, uncle or cousin of the chief, or one of the councillors. Does that give anybody confidence that the problem will be dealt with?

I am disappointed because the minister of Indian affairs promised that his legislation would deal with problems we have been bringing to him for years. The legislation has no enforcement mechanism to deal with the problems we are talking about. The only answer is an independent arm's-length ombudsman who has some power to investigate and take action if there is unethical or illegal behaviour. That is the only way those problems will be solved. That is the only way to get accountability, either political or financial.

I am also disappointed with the comments made by the member for Yukon because he knows better. We will deal with these issues when we get into Bill C-60. At this time I support the proposal put forward by the member for Wild Rose.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to apologize to a number of the First Nations Accountability Coalition grassroots natives who are watching tonight and were hoping we could get some strong support for Bill C-399. I apologize for the lack of concern shown by a number of members in the House about the welfare and the troubles they are going through. The members who spoke tonight know that these things have been going on for years and years.

The legislation that has been brought down by the hon. minister, although the principle is right and the ideas are not too bad, will take forever and ever. We could have at least dealt temporarily with the situation of people starving and suicides that are completely out of control. It is an absolute disgrace that members of the House of Commons are not willing to put everything aside for a moment and take the bull by the horns because there are Canadians in the form of aboriginal grassroots who desperately need our help. They cannot wait another 5, 10 or 15 years.

It takes a little courage. Let us put the canned speech over here and speak from the heart. If everyone knows of what I am speaking let us take some action. Whatever we say up here in front is what we shall do back there. Somebody will pull the strings and the little puppets and sheep will follow suit.

What a shame that we live in such an undemocratic country where we have a dictator at the helm of the controlling government. It is a disgrace and I apologize to all the aboriginal grassroots natives who belong to that coalition who are fighting desperately for their cause. May the good Lord wake up the people who are asleep over there and are unwilling to help the citizens of the country.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Private Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

First Nations Governance Review Act
Adjournment Proceedings

5:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise once again on an issue I raised on May 9 concerning the Lewisporte Marine Terminal which is being closed by the Department of Transport thereby depriving the city of its major industry. It is the biggest employer in the area. It employs between 30 and 40 full and part time people. It will be devastating to the community when it closes.

The government has no backup plan and no assistance to provide to the community of Lewisporte in Newfoundland and Labrador. It seems to have fallen on deaf ears even though on May 23 the hon. member for Gander--Grand Falls raised the issue and asked for help. He asked for the government to come up with concrete solutions and ideas for the town of Lewisporte that could be put in place to help offset the economic devastation that will result from the movement of the port.

Lewisporte has been the main terminal in that area for decades. It is to be closed with all the work and shipment facilities transferred to another port. It will have a negative impact on the community. Marine Atlantic and Coastal Labrador Marine Services are the only major operations out of Lewisporte.

Not one dollar from the federal government has been offered, put in place, or even suggested, to help offset this action which is the result of a government decision. It is through no fault of the people in Lewisporte. It is a government decision that will close the port and have a negative impact.

It goes along with the census of 2001 that showed that every federal riding in Newfoundland and Labrador suffered a decline in population. It is actions by the government that result in this decline in population. If the government does not address these issues in general then the out migration of people from Newfoundland and Labrador and other smaller provinces will continue and eventually they will not be able to maintain their health care systems, highway systems and academic facilities, It is important that the government in general address the out migration of people from smaller communities in poorer provinces to Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

In this case it is a specific action that the government is taking. It is its decision to close the Lewisporte Marine Terminal. It should and must act to help the community and its people maintain their quality of life, culture and standard of living by helping them replace these 30 to 40 permanent and part time high quality jobs.

I would hope that the hon. Minister of Transport or the distinguished parliamentary secretary will have an answer for us on what the government will do to help the people of Lewisporte as a result of its decision to close the marine terminal.