House of Commons Hansard #135 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Libya
Routine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to section 7 of the Special Economic Measures Act and section 4 of the United Nations Act I have the honour to table, in both official languages, copies of an order in council and regulations implementing the United Nations resolution on Libya and taking special economic measures which are in regard to the sanctions against Libya and Moammar Gadhafi formerly announced on February 27, 2011 by the Prime Minister.

The House resumed from November 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-575, An Act respecting the accountability and enhanced financial transparency of elected officials of First Nations communities, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great delight to have this opportunity to express my wholehearted support for Bill C-575, the first nations financial transparency act.

The reason for my support of this bill is quite simple. It is time that the Parliament of Canada embed in the law of the land the right that all Canadians now enjoy, and all members of first nations should enjoy, and that is the right to know how much their elected representatives cost in terms of carrying out their public business.

Bill C-575 would secure this fundamental right of men and women of first nations communities in a perfectly straightforward way. The bill would require first nations governments to include a schedule of remuneration in its annual audited financial statement. Each schedule would provide detailed information on the salaries and reimbursement of expenses paid by a first nation to its chiefs and councils.

The bill further requires every first nation to make its schedule of remuneration publicly available within 120 days after March 31 in each calendar year. If any first nation fails to make public its schedule, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development will have full legal authority to make it public.

All Canadians believe strongly in the right to know how much their elected representatives earn. I am convinced that the same can be said of first nations people. Our shared conviction alone should be more than enough reason for all of us to support Bill C-575.

Yet, that reason alone does not tell the whole story of this bill. Let us consider the practical benefits that would be generated when this principle is embedded in law. Three practical things come to mind: transparency, accountability and effectiveness.

Bill C-575 would help first nations governments become more transparent by having mandatory reporting requirements. All first nations governments, each and every year, would be required to make public detailed information on the salaries and reimbursement of expenses paid to chiefs and councillors without exception. Bill C-575 would mandate that this information be easily accessed by first nations communities. Transparency does not come much more straightforward than that.

And yet some of our colleagues and some leaders of first nation governments have said that Bill C-575 is unnecessary because many of these governments already make this information available to people who ask for it. Their stance leads me to wonder if these critics truly understand the meaning of political transparency.

Political transparency is not about governments merely being willing to share information. Genuine political transparency involves governments actually giving men and women the tools they need to see that information for themselves. That is transparency in its fullest. That is exactly what this bill would deliver.

The bill would also make first nations governments more accountable. We know accountability is another fundamental principle of Canadian political life. Canadians recognize that knowing how much their representatives make in salary and reimbursement of expenses lies at the very heart of political accountability. After all, how is it that Canadians can hold their elected representatives accountable for their actions if they do not have pertinent financial information at their fingertips? By requiring first nations governments to disclose detailed information on remuneration of expenses and salaries of their elected officials, this bill would make those elected officials more accountable to the people they serve.

I am pleased to see that the Assembly of First Nations agrees with the very principles of this bill. The AFN recently passed an important resolution at its special chiefs assembly in December. The resolution pledges that first nations governments should maintain what the AFN calls transparent and accountable decision-making structures.

I do need to point out that the first nations have always had the ability to make that information available in public. Regrettably, a considerable number choose not to. The AFN resolution merely asserts that, essentially, it is a good idea that first nations chiefs and councils might want to do this, but it is certainly not binding. We do not believe that an issue as important as this should rely only on a non-binding resolution. The path that the bill sets out is an effective, binding, and transparent way to ensure this information is available to the public.

Bill C-575 provides first nation governments with an ideal way to follow through on the AFN's intent—greater transparency and accountability. The bill provides these governments with a clear and consistent standard they can abide by, and that all men and women of first nation communities can expect their governments to honour. That kind of standard is a perfect example of political accountability.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar for spurring the House to take constructive action to bring greater transparency, accountability and effectiveness to first nations governments. In that same spirit of constructive action, I want not only to express my wholehearted support for but also for the principle of this bill. I have one brief suggestion that she and the House might consider to improve it.

This suggestion is not completely my own. In response to a question posed by the honourable member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar on November 22, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development stated that we should expand the coverage of Bill C-575 to include all sources of income earned by first nation chiefs and councillors—not just income that comes from funds transferred to first nation communities by the federal government.

I fully agree with the minister's idea and let me explain why. A small part of the funds that are collected for each first nation every year is an unconditional grant designated as band support funding. This money is designated to help communities pay the salaries of elected officials and non-elected administrators, and to offset the normal operating costs associated with running a band office. Yet, many first nations communities also derive revenue from other sources, such as band-owned businesses and through arrangements with other governments. Revenues from these sources may also be used to cover the salaries and expenses of first nations officials.

Accordingly, we should make sure that Bill C-575 compels each first nations government to detail in its schedule of remuneration all salaries, honoraria, and reimbursement of expenses paid to its chiefs and councillors directly or indirectly through the band office.

I urge all of my colleagues who serve on the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to consider this amendment, and even more fervently, of course, I urge members of the House who have joined us here this morning to adopt Bill C-575 at second reading.

It is time to pass the bill. It is time for all first nations governments to become even more transparent, accountable and effective.

It is time to embed in the law of the land a right that all members of first nation communities should enjoy.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill.

My colleague opposite very effectively chairs the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, but I was very surprised at his remarks. I know him to have an understanding of first nations issues. I know he has an understanding of the importance of the duty to consult. I know he understands the importance of collaboration and consultation. I know he understands the real meaning of transparency. He used words such as to “compel all first nations governments”. When I heard him say that, I thought to myself that with respect to transparency for Canadians and for parliamentarians to do their work, we cannot compel the Conservative government to provide documents, so why is one group singled out? I am quite struck by the irony of it.

I want to make clear at the outset that Liberals stand for transparency. We certainly stand for accountability in all governments, including first nations governments. We will fight for accountability and transparency with respect, with collaboration and in consultation with those affected. We will do it by being critical of this bill and asking the tough questions that need to be asked. There is nothing wrong with affirming and standing up for the principles of accountability and transparency.

I want to compare this bill with the Kelowna accord which, as members of the House know, was not honoured by the Conservative government.

The Kelowna accord represented 18 months of negotiation, collaboration and consultation. It was a high-water mark for the Government of Canada and aboriginal people, not just first nations, but Métis, aboriginal women and Inuit.

The process was as important as the outcome. Under the Kelowna accord, there was an elaborate, wholesome accountability for a results framework. It was broad based and comprehensive. It was not simply about reporting a number, but about how to deliver results for a community and for the people who live in that community. The most important aspect of the Kelowna accord was that it was mutual. It was not one-sided at the federal government level and it did not compel. It included a real collaboration between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike.

The recommendations coming out of the Kelowna accord included the establishment of a first nations auditor general and an independent body funded to oversee the accountability framework. The accountability framework was there. It was arrived at by aboriginal people working together with government through a process to determine how it would be done.

What I find extraordinary about this bill is that the paternalistic and maternalistic attitude of members opposite has come forward once again. There seems to be no respect for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government belatedly agreed to. The bill defies the principles of reconciliation that we heard the government speak to in the House many months ago.

As the sponsor of the bill has stated, much of what is in the bill is already being done. A financial statement approved by a chartered accountant is being done with a contribution by INAC. Generally accepted accounting principles are applied and there is an auditor.

Regarding transparency, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has the power, and did in 2005, to make sure that disclosure is there for first nations and anyone else.

It is not fair to imply that none of that is being done or that it cannot be done even under the existing protocol program.

Therefore, the question is: why has the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development not been compelled to have this done under his own authority under the act? Why is it a private member's bill and not a government bill? Why is this being done through the back door and not the front door?

The government and members opposite know full well that the government has a legal duty to consult with aboriginal people on issues that affect their rights and treaties. It is clear this consultation has not happened. Again we have heard the word “compel”. We have heard that it is mandatory for transparency.

I would reiterate that what is mandatory for transparency is also mandatory for transparency in this House. Again, is this bill compliant with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? I think not. Does the government truly believe in the right of self-government? I think not.

This appears to be an attempt to brand all first nations chiefs and councillors as somewhat corrupt. It is making an insinuation about the nature of first nations leadership and governance. It perpetuates myths and stereotypes that communities right across this country have been working hard to overcome.

There needs to be a different approach, one of collaboration and consultation. There should be a need to support substantive issues surrounding transparency, issues related to housing, water, education and health in first nations communities.

Many groups have commented on this bill. The Quebec native women's association stated in a press release that Bill C-575 “seems to be motivated by a prejudicial and racist view of aboriginal peoples as 'living off society', by implying that the federal funds coming from 'good taxpayers' money' granted to aboriginal chiefs and councillors are ill spent.

The association went on to say that the minister's support for the bill is a violation of his duty to consult and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Auditor General has spoken about fiscally responsible aboriginal organizations and communities. She has spoken about the onerous reporting requirements of first nations communities and says that there is in fact 98% compliance with all of the reporting requirements for first nations people.

Fiscal relationships between first nation governments and the federal government ought to be akin to intergovernmental transfers rather than typical grants and contributions as depicted in Bill C-575.

Transparency and accountability are necessary, there is no question. They are necessary in this House as well as outside the House. They are necessary in all levels of government. However, compelling a mandatory accountability and compelling mandatory disclosure is not the way to deal with Canada's first nations people.

The Liberals support transparency and accountability, but I reiterate that it must be done in collaboration and in consultation. Members opposite know that.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of my constituents in Winnipeg Centre not only to speak against this bill but to reject it. I will use my 10 minutes to condemn this bill and the very assumptions that led to the bill coming before the House of Commons today. I find the bill to be an extension of the Eurocentric, colonial, paternalistic and offensive assumptions that underlie the government's policies toward first nations people.

This bill finds its roots and origins in the racist assumptions that all first nations are either corrupt or incompetent and I reject both of those assumptions. In fact, I feel sorry for the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar because she is a hapless dupe who has been designated to put forward a bill that the government was too cowardly to bring forward itself. If the government wanted to try to make the case that all first nations are incompetent or corrupt, the government itself should have the guts to say it to the House of Commons instead of using the back door and some new rookie hapless dupe in rural Saskatchewan. That is what I find offensive.

If the member had done a bit of research, she would know that the Auditor General of Canada said that first nations in fact are over-audited. They are handicapped by audits. They are almost crippled and paralyzed by the number of routine audits they have to do. There are 168 audits per year to five different government departments. How many is that? If we do the math, it is three or four times a week that paperwork has to be submitted.

In spite of this, 96% of all first nations in the country submit their audits on time, without comment or criticism from the auditor. Of the remainder, 27 out of 633 first nations, the auditors commented that of the 27 first nations that either failed to file 1 of their 168 returns on time, or made a mathematical error, or had a problem with their accounting, only 11 were put under third party management by the Government of Canada. Those are the statistics.

If the Government of Canada wants to do something about the appalling social conditions of our first nations people and if it wants the House of Commons to be seized with first nations issues, why are we bogged down with some nuisance little mischief bill that is pandering to a racist minority that dwells under the assumption that all first nations are either corrupt or incompetent? That is what we should be questioning today.

The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development should be renamed. He should be called the minister for managing poverty, because that is what his job entails: robbing Peter to pay Paul. He moves around the same little inadequate pool of money that is supposed to provide for the basic needs of nearly a million people, some $6 billion in total for the needs of a million people.

Our entire armed forces comprises 68,000 people and what is the budget? There is a $32 billion budget for 50,000 people versus $6 billion for a million people to provide housing, schools, education, health care and basic needs. That is the root of the problem. The problem is not about accountability or governance. The problem is not about insignificant things like the number of audits that are submitted on time. The problem is chronic long-term poverty.

I put it to the House that the problem of the social condition of the first nations people has its origins in the Indian Act, an offensive document of oppression, unworthy of any western democracy. That is the root of the problem. The problem is not the meddling of one rookie MP who thinks she is going to put forward a private member's bill with a racist assumption that all first nations are incompetent or, even worse, corrupt. The Indian Act is the root of the problem.

If the government wanted to solve the appalling third world social conditions that our first nations are forced to live under, the government would tear up the Indian Act and would provide a meaningful share of the land and resources that first nations were entitled to under their treaties. If the government took 10% of the money it spends in court fighting first nations for their legitimate rights and applied it to a share of the land and resources, then first nations could get on with some economic development.

I wonder if any member of Parliament has ever read the Indian Act. I wonder if any member knows that first nations are not even allowed to cut down a single tree on their land without the express permission of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

I wonder if the members know that if gold or oil is discovered on a first nations reserve, the residents are not entitled to it. The only thing they are expressly entitled to in the Indian Act is gravel, sand, mud and soil. If one can carve out a living by selling gravel, mud, sand and soil on a reserve, granted, one then has a legitimate way to make a living by hauling gravel or having a quarry. That, they are allowed to do.

However, if it has to do with fisheries, it is not allowed; with forestry, it is not allowed; with mining, it is not allowed. If they discover gold and pearls and rubies on their reserve, it is not theirs. So what can be expected?

I sat in this House of Commons at the last fumbling, clumsy attempt to try to imply that aboriginal people's poverty is because of lack of governance or corruption or incompetence. It was called the first nations governance act. Again, it was a smoke screen to try to pretend that the root of the problem was not chronic long-term poverty and all of its predictable social consequences, and that it was not the complete refusal to share the wealth of the land and resources guaranteed to first nations under treaty. However, this is not an assumption on my part; the evidence is that every time an aboriginal group does finally make it to the Supreme Court after 30 years, they win. They win every time.

Until the 1960s, a lawyer was not allowed to represent Indians in court. How were they supposed to fight their court cases? One was not allowed to take money from an Indian to pursue a land claim. It was expressly forbidden by the law society. So when these 30- and 40-year land claims finally get to court, the plaintiffs win because they are right. Whether in the Marshall case, the Sparrow case or in Delgamuukw, whatever the case, first nations plaintiffs win and the government loses.

Yet instead of acknowledging that reality, that those treaties mean something, that the treaties are two sided and that we are all treaty people and that I, for instance, am a participant of that treaty, the government denies it. Those treaties are legal and binding, and they are right. There would not be the third world social conditions here if we honoured the treaties and did not wait for 30- and 40- and 50-year court cases. However, the Department of Justice has floors of lawyers who do nothing but say “no” to aboriginal people and drag stuff through the courts. That is what the government spends its money on.

Does the government think there is any advantage to having a permanent underclass in our society? Does it think that is an economy? That is a false economy. It is an offensive economy and the social cost is prevalent and obvious in the streets of Winnipeg and in any other major centre, and certainly on first nations reserves that are denied the right.

I carry the feather. I was given the honour of a blanket ceremony and a spiritual name was given to me by the Assembly of First Nations for standing up and fighting the first nations governance act. With that honour comes an obligation that we will speak truth to power in this House of Commons. Every time there is an offensive piece of legislation that extends the paternalistic assumptions of the Indian Act, we will denounce it, we will condemn it and we will defeat it. That bill will not pass.

If the Government of Canada wants to talk about secrecy and accountability, it should look in the mirror because it is the Department of Indian Affairs and the Minister of Indian Affairs that are secretive and unaccountable.

Here I point to the Kapyong Barracks, the military base in the city of Winnipeg, as a classic example. Year after year, the treaty land entitlement of the first nations who have first option to purchase surplus government land has been systematically denied.

We just had another court case on Thursday of this week in Winnipeg, where the Government of Canada appealed another decision that it had lost, and thus guaranteed five more years in court going to the Supreme Court of Canada, where it will ultimately lose. But at least it is pandering to its base that says, “Stop giving those Indians so much stuff and let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps”. How do people pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they have no tools to use? How do people pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they cannot participate in economic development because they have no right to the land and resources under their feet, the very land and resources that were guaranteed to them under Treaties 1 through 7 in our prairie region, and all over the west coast with the Douglas treaties, et cetera?

The government is wrong: this bill is offensive and we condemn it. We should not just reject it; it should be tossed out of here with great ceremony because we will not tolerate it and will not stand for it.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in my place and take part in this debate and voice my support for Bill C-575, the first nations financial transparency act. I support the bill because it would provide a common sense response to a clear need, that being the right of the men and women of first nation communities to have local governments that are completely transparent and accountable. More specifically, they have a right to know exactly how much the elected leaders of those local governments earn in salary and in reimbursed expenses. Nothing could be clearer than that.

Bill C-575 would require that the annual financial statements of each federally funded first nation include a schedule of remuneration, with each schedule providing detailed information on the salaries and reimbursed expenses paid by a first nation to its chief and councillors. Every first nation would be required to make this remuneration schedule publicly available within 120 days after March 31 each calendar year. If any first nation fails to make public its schedule, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development would have full legal authority to make it public.

Some of our colleagues have taken exception to this common sense approach. In their remarks, they have implied that Bill C-575 is an insult to first nation people because the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar did not develop the bill in close collaboration with first nations' leaders. They have stated that the bill is an abdication of leadership because it is a private member's bill and not one initiated by the government. They have asserted that the bill brands all first nations' elected officials as corrupt. In effect, they prefer to cloud the issue, to rekindle old quarrels, to change the subject and to keep first nation leaders' salaries secret.

I am convinced that I speak for the vast majority of Canadians when I say that I find absolutely nothing controversial, inflammatory or objectionable about Bill C-575. If anything is objectionable, it is the fact that some men and women of first nation communities have been deprived of the absolute right to know how much their elected leaders are paid. If anything is objectionable, it is the fact that we have waited this long to take this step to improve the transparency and accountability of first nation governments. After all, who among us could object to greater transparency and accountability in first nation governments?

We Canadians demand, and are continually taking steps to increase, transparency and accountability of governments at all levels throughout country, municipal, provincial, territorial and federal. We have laws in place throughout these jurisdictions to make the workings and decisions of governments, and the information used by them, more transparent to citizens. We have laws in place throughout these jurisdictions to put tools in the hands of citizens so they can access for themselves vital information used by governments. We have laws in place throughout those jurisdictions to make governments increasingly and more directly accountable to the men and women of the governments we serve.

We have taken these steps because we know, without question and without hesitation, the basic truth and fairness that underpin these laws. We know the truth and fairness of that in our minds. We also know the practical, real life value of laws that promote transparency and accountability of governments.

Laws that promote transparency and accountability lend greater credibility to the actions and decisions of governments. They strengthen the legal and moral authority of elected representatives. They encourage an atmosphere of trust and openness between governments and the governed. They also give Canadians the vital information they need to make informed decisions about their lives, there families, their futures. They lead to consistent government practices and procedures that in turn make the services governments provide more reliable and effective. Laws that promote transparency and accountability also help eliminate needless controversy and enable citizens and their governments to put the focus of public discussion where it belongs, on fundamental quality of life issues, such as housing, health care, education, economic development and jobs.

I want to take this opportunity to salute the first nation governments that have taken the steps outlined in Bill C-575 to promote transparency and accountability in their governments. Representatives of several first nation governments are on record stating that they are committed to making sure that the actions and decisions of their governments are transparent and financial information is made readily available to community members.

Just last month a strong example of a government taking steps to promote greater transparency and accountability was delivered by the Whitecap Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan. Spurred by Bill C-575, the Whitecap Dakota First Nation chief, Darcy Bear, and the council have created an independent compensation commission that will set the pay for the chief and councillors.

Through their actions, chief Bear and his community councillors have shown that they support transparency and accountability of government and support making public audited financial statements that highlight their government's expenditure decisions and actions. Chief Bear has made it clear that he supports Bill C-575. He did so as he stood alongside the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

Chief Bear supports the bill because he recognizes the practical value to his community of greater transparency and accountability. His actions and support for Bill C-575 acknowledge that greater transparency and accountability of government operations attract investors, spur economic development, create jobs, encourage trust in government and fuel the overall growth, optimism and success of his community. I can think of no more persuasive proof of the value of Bill C-575 than the views and support offered by Chief Bear and the members of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation.

I urge my colleagues to heed those views. I urge my colleagues to help bring about greater transparency and accountability in first nations government. I urge my colleagues to adopt Bill C-575.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not have a counter with me, but half of that speech had the words, “transparency, openness and accountability”.

I had the good fortune to be invited to be involved with an aboriginal bill to do with matrimonial real property rights. It was pursuant to a bill presented by the government. In preparation of that bill, the government engaged a well-respected consultant. As I recall, over 80 recommendations were for the inclusion in the proposed bill. How many of those recommendations actually appeared in the bill? None. Why? Because the government did not bother to consult with first nations. It did not bother to ask what was important.

First nations communities right across the country were absolutely outraged for one simple reason: the government did not respect the long-standing principle of fair and open consultation prior to any legislation coming through. This showed itself in the fact that not only did the National Women's Aboriginal Commission but virtually every first nations community across the country signed up in support of defeating the bill for one reason: the lack of consultation.

One thing mentioned earlier by a speaker was that this seemed to be a government position which was being forced into the House through the mechanism of a private member's bill. The government does not want to put forward a bill that somehow champions openness, transparency and accountability. There is nobody in this chamber or country who would credit the government with being open, transparent and accountable. There are just far too many examples.

The very first bill the Conservative government brought in January 2006 was the Federal Accountability Act. Where is that now? We have had example after example of failure to be open, accountable and transparent. The member said in his speech that if we were open, transparent and accountable, it would promote trust in government.

When we consider the way this has come forward, the government itself is not open, transparent or accountable, but it demands that of first nations on matters which are their business. The point is it is their business.

As an example, on February 25, the Parliamentary Budget Officer came out with a 16 page report on a motion that the finance committee brought here in a committee report, and a matter of privilege, that the government had refused to provide the information members of Parliament needed to do their jobs. That is exactly what the Parliamentary Budget Officer concluded: the costing of justice bills; the costing of the F-35s; the costing of the operational expense reductions; the projections on corporate taxes; and the projections on the cost of corporate tax cuts.

When we put these together with the CIDA and KAIROS issue, the minister cannot even rise in this place and speak to that issue because she has been told not to speak. She has been told not to be open, or transparent or accountable to the House of Commons.

How dare the government put forth a bill where it demands openness, transparency and accountability of first nations when it cannot demonstrate openness, accountability and transparency itself. That is the shame. The shame is not only the failure to consult but to demean first nations by not consulting.

The bill on matrimonial property rights never did get passed. It is a very serious issue. The government should bring it back after consultation. Even when it gets the best experts giving it recommendations, it ignores them totally. Did it consult on this? No. It somehow wants to paint all first nations with the same brush. Some chief is getting paid $100,000 or $200,000 a year.

This cannot be dealt with on a one-off basis. This is a very important issue. The relationship of first nations and the Government of Canada is trashed because of the government's reputation and its failure to consult, to be open, to be transparent and to be accountable. It cannot propose this bill as a private member's bill. It really is unfortunate.

There is another case that I was speaking to someone about this morning regarding the Toronto Port Authority. The House leader, the industry minister and the foreign affairs minister were all at one time a transport minister in cabinet. During that period, three of the board of directors of the Toronto Port Authority wrote a letter to those three ministers, along with the Minister of Finance, who is the political minister for Ontario, stating several violations of the bylaws of the Toronto Port Authority. How many of those directors got a response from any one of those ministers about that legal letter regarding the violations that they had breached their duty to operate the port authority in a fashion conducive to the public interest? None. Not one of those ministers responded to that letter. I will find out why they do not want to be open, transparent or accountable.

The government cannot have it both ways. If it is serious about bills like this, it is important for us to deal with first nations in an honest way, by consulting and understanding the issues and the problems. If it is an issue of disclosure, we can deal with that. However, when it brings it forth by way of private member's business, it is because it does not want to deal with it. It does not have the respect within first nations. We know that. It has been that way since 2006. All the work that was done has gone totally right downhill.

I remember talking to the member for Yukon. He is very much supportive of the position that this bill has to be defeated because it is an insult to first nations.

I have spoken to our critic, the member for Labrador, when we worked on the matrimonial property rights bill. We had so many meetings. We were making such good progress. However, a bill like this puts us back further than when the government started. This is the problem we are addressing.

I call on all hon. members to reflect very carefully on what has happened here and what has happened not only with this bill but with the failure of the government to respect the rights, freedoms and the privileges of parliamentarians to have information, to have consultation and to allow us to take our best shot.

Let us look at Afghan detainee documents. That is another issue. The Speaker had to rule that we had the right. We know we have the right. Who is delaying it? It is the Conservative government. This is the issue in the House today. It is the issue that we will have every day in this chamber until the government decides, once and for all, that it must be open, transparent and accountable if wants to continue to be the government.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to carry on this debate, making some of the very good points my colleague just made.

First, the reason the government's aboriginal agenda, and in fact the justice agenda, is in such shambles and disaster is because of a lack of consultation, as my colleague said. This is not coming from us; it is coming from Canadians. We hear from them in committee. Meeting after meeting, when we go to look at a bill in committee, we have the experts come forward. When asked if they have been consulted, the answer has been no. When asked if the stakeholders have been consulted, the answer has been no.

It is no wonder legislation comes forward in a terrible manner, since the consultation has not been done. People are often more aggrieved about the lack of consultation and partnership than they are about what is in the bill. That explains the disaster in the justice file as well.

With respect to the first nations bills, it is another type of environment. In Canada we have a government to government to government relationship with first nations, aboriginal governments, provincial governments and municipal governments. That is obviously not being respected when government members speak to the bill and defend the fact that the consultation is not a government-to-relationship, where it tells another government what to do with something within its jurisdiction, without any discussion. It is not the way to build goodwill.

I would also like to commend the chair of the aboriginal committee who does an excellent job and who understands some of these things about respect for first nations government and for their views on issues that will affect them. First nations governments do not tell us how to run government and we should not tell them what to do without consultation and without a respectful government-to-government relationship.

It is very ironic, as my colleague said, that we have government members defending a bill asking another government for accountability when the government itself is under fire as the least open, least transparent and least accountable government in Canadian history.

My colleague asked why this was a private member's bill. The reason is there is only allowed to be a couple of speakers on a private member's bill. If this were a government bill, dozens of speakers in the House would complaining about the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency and the lack of openness of the government, which this opportunity provides. Then it has the nerve to suggest that another government should be more accountable.

My colleague mentioned a number of examples. Today we have a crisis in Parliament, which will be continuing this week. The government will not even let ministers defend themselves. It is not open enough to allow a minister to answer questions.

We had a constitutional crisis earlier this year, brought forward by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River. Once again, the government has refused to let Canadians and parliamentarians, who are supposed to run the country, see documents in order to be accountable. How can it ask other governments to be accountable when it gets into crises for lacking accountability? The government should take some time to look in the mirror.

What about the simple fact that the Prime Minister will not even table the list of people who funded his leadership campaign today?

I have a great example of a lack of accountability of the government. It is related to the very simple fact of cabinet meetings and cabinet committee meetings. For all previous governments, whichever political party, traditionally cabinet meetings were held every week in the cabinet office right above us. Then there would be cabinet committee meetings. Some of the ministers would talk to the press after meetings. The prime minister would often talk to the press. That is part of an open and fair government, being accountable and transparent to the media.

What did the Conservative government do when it came into power? It suddenly hid its cabinet meetings and cabinet committee meetings.

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An hon. member

Secrets.

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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Secrets. People from other countries would laugh if they thought the ministers and the Prime Minister of the great democracy of Canada had to have secret meetings so the press could not find them and they would not have to speak to the press afterward.

I put in an access to information request asking where the meetings were being held. It was a very simple question about an accountable and democratic government. I asked if it was having meetings in government-paid Parliament buildings and if not, where. It was a very simple question. It actually refused to answer that question. This is a big issue for the government. It cannot tell anyone where it is having cabinet meetings or cabinet committee meetings.

Is it not absurd that ministers and the Prime Minister are so scared that they are hiding their meetings from Canadians but want other governments to be more accountable? There was a request for a review of that ruling and they are still refusing to say where they meet. How can people who are so secretive and unaccountable actually suggest that other governments should be more accountable?

There is the lack of accountability in the committee system, which I am sure members opposite have experienced themselves. The very good members on the other side are possibly a little uncomfortable themselves with some of the tactics that have been forced upon them. There is the dirty tactics book, including lack of accountability, that they can use in committee meetings. Certain members on the other side have filibustered entire meetings. At the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the chair walked out of three or four meetings in a row just so members could not debate a scandal involving the government.

I will close by saying that it is very ironic that government members ask other governments to be accountable when a vote will be held tonight about the lack of accountability of the Conservative government because it will not produce papers to Parliament. Government members should think twice about asking other governments to be accountable when they are not the least bit accountable themselves.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Resuming debate with her right of reply, the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

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Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased as a member of Parliament for the opportunity to introduce a private member's bill and to speak again to Bill C-575. I would also like to thank those of my colleagues who have expressed support for my bill.

This is a straightforward bill. By supporting it, members of Parliament will be confirming their commitment to transparency and accountability for all Canadians.

There are aboriginal Canadians who do not know what their band chiefs receive from the reserve through their salaries and expenses. These concerned individuals are either afraid to ask, have asked and been met with resistance, or have been refused outright. First nations band members should not have to ask for this information. It should be publicly available, just like it is for all other elected officials across our country.

Some members have argued that the bill would increase the burden of reporting for first nations. This is false. What the bill will do is make figures that are already audited publicly available. To those members of Parliament who have opposed this bill, I ask: Who are they representing?

Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation has led his band from a 70% unemployment rate to a 4% unemployment rate. In his words: “Full disclosure has long been our practice at Whitecap, which is why I fully support Mrs. Block's private member's bill. Our prudent, ethical, business-like approach has been vital to achieving that dramatic turnaround. How can you attract banks and business partners into your community without being accountable and transparent to your own members? You can’t.”

I ask again of members opposite who are they helping by opposing the bill? It certainly is not the first nations band members who want their communities to prosper. It certainly is not the band chiefs and councils who want to be accountable to their people.

One of the many letters I received from members of first nations across the country put it very well: “I am in total support of the passing of the bill...The only support to kill the bill is from the leadership who do not favour the figures to be made available to band members as well as to the 'mainstream' public at large...I am very happy you are doing this for the average band member of the first nations lands.”

Some chiefs have expressed dismay at the speculation about their salaries and that there are unfair generalizations being made about their income. They claim that figures released in an access to information request to INAC are inaccurate and inflated. Passing Bill C-575 would put an end to the secrecy and the speculation.

In summary, this has been a longstanding issue for first nations community members seeking this information. I strongly believe in the principles of transparency and accountability. I also believe that first nations, like all Canadians, deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials.

Again, there are numerous examples of disclosure for elected officials across our country. This bill will allow first nations to ensure that public funds flowing to their elected officials for salaries and expenses are publicly disclosed.

There is strong support among first nation community members for Bill C-575. To those members of Parliament who have up until now opposed the bill, I encourage them to re-examine their priorities and reflect on why they are here.

I ask all members to support this legislation. Let us get this bill into committee, hear from witnesses, amend it if necessary and show our support for first nations, their leaders, their band members and all Canadian taxpayers.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.