House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for her speech. I enjoy working with her on the standing committee. We look forward to not only considering the witnesses and proposed amendments, as the minister said, but we also have had a great working relationship, and it will play itself out with respect to this piece of legislation.

I appreciate the member raising, by way of example, the Whitecap first nation. As a committee, we had a chance to visit them. We saw a tremendous economic success there. It is true that in many instances its members have gone well above and beyond any sense of accountability on so many different levels, and that has been, in no small way, the key to their success.

On a more narrow question of economic development, since we know that all first nations communities are not on that particular level—not in terms of economic success or accountability and transparency per se—would the member then concede or at least agree or acknowledge that this has the potential to put the community in an overall better position and to provide those who do not have some of the benefits that Whitecap has with the potential to have stronger relationships with various private sector stakeholders?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I fail to see how simply requiring first nations—who, by the way, already do all this reporting—to continue to do this reporting is going to contribute to an enhanced capacity for economic development.

If the government was serious about developing capacity, it would have gone back to the AFN paper, which recommended the development of tools needed by both the Government of Canada and first nations to be able to apply the Auditor General's five principles fully and effectively to all policies, programs and services aimed at first nations. This would include the tools needed by first nations governments to provide responsible and accountable government for their constituents. If the government was truly interested in economic development, what it would have actually done is help develop the tools to build capacity.

I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's comments about the committee. Its members do work very effectively together. At committee we have been hearing witnesses involved in economic development say that leadership and first nations' ability to have those tools and develop that capacity is very important. That would have been a better focus for us: to work with first nations in developing those tools and that capacity.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the question I would like to ask the hon. member is relatively simple.

Over the past few months, we have heard rather urgent reports—that were never contradicted—that first nations communities are having difficulty accessing drinking water, education, health care and decent housing.

Why are we coming back to this discussion of good management? Clearly management is not the issue since there is no budget to manage to meet these essential needs.

Is the government's request regarding this legislation not simply a way to divert attention away from the fact that the government is not doing its duty?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, over the past year we have had a report on first nations education commissioned by the government in conjunction with the Assembly of First Nations that highlighted the desperate straits of many schools on reserve. It was no surprise to anybody.

There was the crisis in Attawapiskat around housing.

A national survey was just released on the state of health and the social determinants of health in many first nations communities. It talks about drinking water, education and food insecurity.

We have amazing documentation showing what the problems are but we lack the political will to move forward in addressing these serious issues.

First nations, Métis and Inuit are the youngest and fastest growing population in Canada. They are the workforce of the future. It is incumbent upon all of us in the House to invest in them. It is an investment in the future and an investment to ensure we have the skilled labour force that Canada needs to take itself forward on the international stage.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

June 20th, 2012 / 4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, transparency and proactive disclosure are important goals for all governments, including first nations governments, and these are goals that the Liberal opposition supports.

The Conservatives have a duty to work with first nations to improve mutual accountability, not just impose made in Ottawa legislation.

First nations are willing partners on issues of governance but the government must stop treating them as adversaries. The Conservative government's recent decision to cut the National Centre for First Nations Governance is hardly a promising start.

Despite the Prime Minister's rhetoric at the recent crown-first nations gathering about resetting the relationship, the Conservative government has shown a total disregard for the rights of indigenous people.

The Supreme Court of Canada established that both federal and provincial governments have a duty to consult aboriginal peoples before making decisions that might adversely affect their aboriginal rights and, in some circumstances, accommodate aboriginal peoples concerns.

Further, we must not forget that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada signed, obliges Canada to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples for matters affecting rights, territories and resources.

The government now defends its lack of progress toward implementing the declaration by claiming that it is merely aspirational in nature.

Now the Conservative government is imposing major changes to first nations financial reporting requirements with no significant prior consultation with those who will have to implement these changes.

The government has used the same flawed approach on drinking water and on matrimonial real property.

The government did not hold any discussions on the specifics of these bills with stakeholders, never mind the opposition, before tabling them.

We have seen the Conservative government explicitly exclude aboriginal participation from their government's hunting and angling advisory panel despite the fact that they are the only Canadians with constitutionally protected hunting and fishing rights.

The Conservative government is a government that seems to have a pathological aversion to consultation with those impacted by their decisions.

When major changes to employment insurance and health care were recently introduced, it was done without any prior consultation with provincial governments, leaving them to sort out major structural changes in their jurisdictions with no federal-provincial dialogue.

When the Prime Minister announced major changes to our pensions, he did so to a foreign audience without having raised it during the federal election only months before or discussing the proposals with experts, stakeholders or Canadians.

The government’s approach violates the Crown’s constitutional duty to consult with first nations before changing laws or policies that affect first nations people, institutions and rights.

The previous Liberal government worked with first nations to develop a broad-based and comprehensive mutual accountability framework. This framework was included in the Kelowna accord, which the Conservatives tore up in 2006. The accord established a first nations auditor general, an independent body funded to oversee the accountability framework. This was broadly supported by aboriginal people. It was creative. It was the way forward in terms of building accountability and transparency. The Conservatives cancelled this initiative in 2006.

First nations funding arrangements are currently subject to annual allocations, changing program parameters and reporting obligations, as well as unilateral realignment, reductions and adjustments. We lack a legislative framework for predictable federal fiscal transfers based on the actual cost of delivery of services.

This will require transforming the fiscal relationship with the federal government to respect first nations rights and appropriately align responsibilities. Any effort to improve accountability and transparency must be mutual and should include both enabling provisions for a first nations auditor general and a commitment by the federal government to be accountable for its spending on first nations programs.

Bill C-27 does nothing to streamline the current overwhelming reporting burden, especially for small first nations with limited administrative capacity.

The Auditor General has repeatedly called for meaningful action to reduce unnecessary first nations reporting requirements that shift limited capacity from community programs.

In her 2002 report, the Auditor General recommended that the federal government should consult with first nations to review reporting requirements on a regular basis and to determine reporting needs when new programs are set up. Unnecessary or duplicative reporting requirements should be dropped.

As recently as June 2011, the Auditor General reported government progress toward achieving this needed rationalization as unsatisfactory. The government has failed to make meaningful progress on this issue.

First nations provide a minimum of 168 different financial reports to the 4 major funding departments: INAC, Health Canada, HRSDC and CMHC. That is three per week. The majority of these communities have less than 500 people. AANDC alone receives 60,000 reports from first nations annually as a requirement under existing funding agreements. Legislation that adds additional reporting requirements for first nations must also deal with this overwhelming and often outdated and unnecessary burden of existing reporting requirements.

As I have indicated, the Liberals fully support the principle of proactive disclosure of financial information for first nations chiefs and council to band members. Clearly, cases of first nation citizens being denied access to this information are unacceptable and it may be that existing legislation provisions should require proactive disclosure.

However, as the courts have ruled, this right of access to information does not extend to the general public. Therefore, the proactive disclosure provisions in this legislation must be changed so they provide proactive disclosure to first nations citizens alone.

There are existing models from first nations that already have strong governance models which can be adopted. There are examples of bands that are already proactively disclosing financial statements on password protected websites. These are the types of creative solutions that result from thorough two-way consultations when the government does not just speak but listens and internalizes what stakeholders have to say.

Bill C-27 would force first nations to disclose financial information related to band-owned businesses to all Canadians, not simply remuneration paid out of federal grants and contributions. This is inconsistent with the principles of first nations self-government and contravenes the Privacy Act, as well as a ruling by the Federal Court.

This measure could potentially make band-owned businesses vulnerable to predatory practices, and put them at a competitive disadvantage.

I am very concerned about the double standard that would be applied under this legislation. Non-aboriginal private corporations are not forced to publicly disclose consolidated financial statements. This could very well defeat the government's stated goal of stimulating economic development on reserves, as my colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan has said.

I will also point out that paternalistic lectures about accountability are a little rich coming from the Conservative government. It is a government that has decided to rule by ideology, blind to facts, blind to the reality of everyday Canadians and free from accountability offered by access to reliable statistics. To facilitate this, it has muzzled scientists, bullied non-governmental organizations and slashed programs focused on gathering and analyzing evidence-based data.

In the 2006 election, the Conservative Party of Canada was fined by Elections Canada for overspending its campaign limit by $1.3 million and to have tried to inappropriately collect $800,000 from taxpayers in rebates.

In 2011, Conservative senators, Doug Finley and Irving Gerstein, as well as senior campaign officials, Michael Donison and Susan Kehoe reached a plea deal for misleading Elections Canada. It also seems increasing likely that there was a coordinated effort to keep Canadians from the polls last year. Elections Canada is currently investigating these allegations.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister is now facing a serious investigation by Canada's independent election authority for spending irregularities. The same individual is shockingly the government's spokesperson on election fraud. So much for accountability.

What about transparency? Canada's Information and Privacy Commissioners have publicly stated that while other nations are moving toward more open and accountable federal governments, our government remains one of the most unaccountable and secretive in Canada's history.

Bill C-38, the recently passed 425 page budget implementation bill, amends over 70 different acts and could end over 50 years of environmental oversight in Canada. Not only were these changes put forward without proper consultation, they were pushed through Parliament in a way to circumvent democratic scrutiny.

First nations have little to learn about accountability and transparency from the government.

As I have stated, the Liberals support the underlying goals of the legislation but are very concerned about how it was brought to the House.

The bill, as written, is inconsistent with the principle of first nations self-government.

It is inconsistent with the new approach to relations between the Government of Canada and first nations which was supposed to have resulted from the residential schools apology in 2008.

It is inconsistent with the Conservatives' belated and half-hearted support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Prime Minister's commitment at the crown-first nations gathering to reset this relationship.

We also have deep concerns about some of the unintended consequences of the impact on local capacity and first nations owned businesses. This legislation will need significant improvements and much further consultation with first nations.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Kenora
Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciated certain parts of the member's speech because it sounds to me like there is an opportunity here to get this to committee and have some further discussions and consultations.

We have heard from first nations community members who are asking for this kind of transparency. It seems to me that there are already things in place that can facilitate that, and the committee will do great work on that.

The other part of the speech, the bit rich and paternalistic part, is very interesting to me as someone who spent eight years living and working in isolated first nations communities throughout the 1990s. I saw some massive deficits in infrastructure with schools, water and waste water treatment. We are now moving forward on those. We are not drafting documents, like the famous white paper of that party in its past.

We have a great opportunity here to work on legislation that would bring as many, if not all, first nations communities at par with some level of transparency and accountability to their membership and transfer that power to the community level where it belongs.

Does the member not think that it is vital to get this legislation to committee to hear some of the best practices from communities that have exceeded what this legislation currently contains, to make those considerations, hear those testimonies and move forward with this legislation, which her party appears to support?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, we feel this is very sad at a time when it was to be possible to reset the relationship in a true government-to-government way.

We Liberals are very proud of the process that went into the Kelowna accord. That meant 18 months of bottom-up conversations among the aboriginal leaders in this country, first nations, Inuit, Métis, provinces and territories as well as the federal government, choosing the five areas of education, health, housing, economic development as well as accountability.

Through that 18 months there was a consensus of how to go forward and how much it would cost in terms of the $5 billion that was assigned.

I must say that I come from a place where the motto was Non quo sed quomodo, “it is not only what you do, but how”, and I am afraid the bill remains as paternalistic as it was when it was tabled.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the hon. member for St. Paul's to comment on a couple of things.

She mentioned in her speech about the volume of reporting that is already in place that requires chiefs and councils to reveal their salaries, honorary expenses and audited financial statements. I wonder if she could comment, first, on the reporting that is already in place and why it is not sufficient.

Second, the government claims that somehow or other Bill C-27 would enhance economic development. I wonder if she can see any way this would enhance economic development.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we crossed the country with the committee, we heard serious concerns about the bill and what could happen if again that proprietary information in a band-owned enterprise—how much they pay an engineer, how much this person makes—would open it up to predatory practices from competitors and actually put the first nations' business at a complete disadvantage.

I think everything we have heard speaks to the fact that this is not a good idea. The bill goes way further than the private member's bill before. Also, as we know, if any band members are having trouble getting information on the salaries of the chief and council, the minister already has the ability to get that information for those band members.

This is just worryingly extinguishing of economic opportunity for first nations.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I took note of the statement by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs when he said that it is time to take action.

If he is taking such quick and strong action, then why is there is no affordable housing or decent water and schools? Instead there are more demands for reports and more paperwork.

This government used to boast about wanting to reduce bureaucracy, but now it is adding another layer of it.

Can the hon. member from the Liberal Party of Canada tell us why the government is asking first nations people for more reports, when the information is already available, and why it is asking for fewer reports from private companies, which quite often make off with Canadians' wealth.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

This government really enjoys making laws and giving speeches, but the resources for first nations are not found there. The legislation on drinking water is not enough.

The first nations need resources and budgets to build infrastructure for drinking water, affordable housing, health care and everything else that should concern this government.

An avalanche of laws will not address the current situation. It is totally unacceptable for all Canadians.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just have a follow-up question.

The parliamentary secretary talked about getting the bill to committee where we would have an opportunity to examine best practices on accountability and how different first nations governments had set up their practices around reporting expenses and salaries. I wonder if the member could comment on the fact that we could do this without legislation. The committee could undertake a study to look at best practices.

As I mentioned earlier in, 2006 the Assembly of First Nations put out a position paper around some of the proposed principles and practices. I wonder if the member could comment on that aspect of it.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we know, the Assembly of First Nations did pass the resolution in December 2010. If any member wants to look today at the audited statements of chief and council of Attawapiskat, they are online. It is up to the individual first nation as to whether it chooses to make this public or password-protected to its own band.

The creativity, innovation and the real desire for accountability and transparency is there among first nations. We hear it everywhere we go. The reset means the accountability of chief and council needs to be to their members and their community, not to the Indian agent, not to big brother.

If the government really wants to reset the relationship, it is extraordinarily important that it understand that tabling paternalistic legislation after paternalistic legislation goes in exactly the opposite direction.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the government has its own challenges with accountability and transparency. The latest incident in a long string of incidents has to do with the PBO speaking truth to power and about the hiding of information from Parliament.

Accountability and transparency is a two-way street. Bill C-27 would apparently call first nations to account. How would the bill help with the other side of the street, which is calling the government to account for its handling of what is quite a significant amount of money?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is repeating exactly the concerns of the Auditor General.

Why, over all the years, have the conditions not become any better? How much of the money is in a department? How much of the money is not getting to where it needs to go?

On housing, on so many of these issues, the Auditor General has had serious concerns about the lack of transparency and the results-based management that ought to be present within the minister's department, as opposed to the only accountability and transparency being in first nations.