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 first.

Topics

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today and speak in support of Bill C-27.

I would like to thank the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development for his support of my private member's Bill C-575 in the last Parliament and for his continued interest and leadership in the area of first nations financial transparency and accountability. When I introduced Bill C-575 in the last Parliament, I received overwhelming support for my private member's bill from both first nations community members and Canadians across the country.

If there has been a consistent theme running through our policies and programs with regard to aboriginal affairs since forming government, it is to support aboriginal people in achieving economic success so they can maximize the benefits of self-sufficiency and prosperity.

Since 2006, this goal has been emphasized in every throne speech, as was powerfully reinforced most recently in the 2011 Speech from the Throne. It committed the Government of Canada to support transparency for first nations communities by requiring chiefs and councillors to publish their salaries and expenses.

Being certain that a first nation government upholds standard accounting procedures and sound business practices is vitally important to potential investors in first nations communities. In fact, one of the most compelling reasons to support this legislation is its potential to have a positive impact on first nations economic development.

Transparency builds trust, and trust is integral to building strong relationships. Once it is clear how a community manages its money and how it accounts for expenditures, businesses interested in pursuing joint ventures will have greater confidence that they can count on a first nation to be a reliable and responsible partner.

The requirements under Bill C-27 would enable first nations to demonstrate best practices in their financial operations. This is crucial to create an environment conducive to investment. Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nation also agrees with this concept, and said:

Transparent and accountable First Nation governments support a strong environment for investment leading to greater economic development.

If a first nation can inspire confidence among prospective investors, it can attract economic development, leading to greater self-reliance and a better standard of living for its members. That is the ultimate goal of Bill C-27.

However, the immediate objective of first nation members is simply to find out how their leaders spend the first nation's money and how much money chiefs and councillors are receiving for their services.

As other speakers have already explained, there have been repeated calls for greater transparency and accountability when it comes to the remuneration of chiefs and councillors. Accountability is a fundamental principle of Canadian political life.

Certainly some first nations governments already make this financial information readily available to their community members, but current practice related to disclosure is inconsistent. In some cases, first nation governments only make available information on spending and reimbursement of expenses when requested to do so. Others refuse their members access to financial information, forcing people to turn to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to have this information released.

First nations band members should not have to ask to find out what their elected representatives are earning. It should be publicly available information, just as it is for all other elected officials across the country. Other Canadians are not asked to tolerate such a situation, and first nation members should not be asked to do so either.

First nations are already obligated to produce audited consolidated financial statements and details about chief and councillors' pay, as has already been noted, and submit them to the federal government as a condition of their funding agreements.

However, at the moment, there is nothing in law requiring first nations governments to provide this information to their members or when and how it should be disclosed. This uncertainty, coupled with the shear unavailability of information in so many cases, is unfair to first nations members. It is patently undemocratic. Equally worrisome, it can be a major deterrent in attracting potential private sector investment opportunities.

The first nations financial transparency act would enhance transparency and certainty, making reporting requirements mandatory. It would open up a first nation's books so its members could see how funds were used by their government. Following the passage of this proposed legislation, there will be a consistent, reliable, predictable and transparent approach to disclosing such information. The bill clearly places the accountability on first nations governments to release information about financial compensation to elected representatives in a manner similar to that of other governments across Canada.

Under Bill C-27, band councils would be required to prepare audited, consolidated financial statements each year. These documents would be accompanied by a schedule of remuneration paid to chiefs and councillors, would make this information available to members of their community and would publish these documents on a website.

The proposed act also requires the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to publish the same information on the department's website so it can be easily accessed in one location for the information of all Canadians, including potential investors.

Making audited, consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration widely available will also help to promote investment on reserves. Anyone looking for strong first nation partners for financial ventures will be able to access basic financial information from a single source. Strong, capable and accountable first nations governments will be in a position to attract business investments that will lead to increased economic development and job creation in first nations communities.

It is hard to imagine how anyone could argue with that. Anyone taking an objective look at the facts can only conclude that Bill C-27 is equally good for first nations members, their local governments and Canada's business community.

Therefore, I call on all members of the House to get behind this very necessary and beneficial act. Not only first nations members but all Canadians are counting on parliamentarians to do exactly that.

I move therefore:

That this question be now put.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, it was interesting to listen to the member say that we could not object to the facts. There is a fact I want to put before the member. She talks about how all this could be accessed on websites. According to the First Nations Regional Health Survey, only 51% of first nations have Internet access and that drops to 36% in homes where the income is under $25,000. Therefore, effectively, a significant portion of first nations will be unable to access the information via the Internet anyway.

It is also interesting that she says the Conservatives do not want to force people to go to the minister to get the information, but they have no problem with forcing people to go to the courts to get the information, which is far more expensive and time consuming.

The member mentioned the Whitecap Dakota. She was quoting some support for the bill, but I wonder if she could comment specifically on Whitecap Dakota's two concerns.

One is with the entity, which is under clause 6(1) in the act. That entity is defined as a business, corporation or whatever. Chiefs and councils would have to report under this legislation, and Whitecap Dakota specifically had serious problems with that. It said that public sector reporting should be different from business reporting.

The second concern Whitecap Dakota raised was with regard to treating expenses as lumped in under salary. It asked that those expenses and salary be treated separately.

Could she comment on entities and expenses?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I know the question was posed for the minister and I believe he answered it very well when he said that this legislation would require that band-owned entities publicly disclose only those moneys that accrued to salaries and benefits of chiefs and councillors.

I would remind the member that the immediate objective of the legislation and other initiatives introduced in prior Parliaments is to ensure that first nations community members receive information from their leaders when they ask for it. That is the immediate objective of this legislation.

I would encourage that member to stand up for first nations community members in having access to that kind of information that they rightly deserve.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Wilks Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I hear a lot of, whether it is from first nations, the municipal government or provincial government, are complaints about more paperwork and what they will do with it all.

Could the member tell us what additional paperwork there will be, if any?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, this question was posed to me time and time again by opposition members when I introduced my private member's bill. I want to assure my colleague and all members of the House that the reports that are required to be submitted to the department already have been. There will be no more burden on first nations under this legislation than what is already required of them. What it will require, which was the purpose for introducing my private member's bill, and I am pleased to see it is the immediate objective of this legislation, is that first nations communities have access to this information when they ask for it.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

June 20th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague some questions. I would like to quote the Prime Minister, who gave a speech at the crown—first nations gathering in January 2012. He said:

For our goal is self sufficient citizens and self-governing communities. Our goal is to promote improved governance. Our goal is much increased aboriginal participation in the economy and in the country’s prosperity, and we have no illusion about the enormous work that lies ahead of us.

A little later, he said:

So that will be our approach, to replace elements of the Indian Act with more modern legislation and procedures, in partnership with provinces and first nations.

The Prime Minister seemed to want to promote a partnership with first nations. And yet, there has been no working together with the first nations on this bill. They were not consulted about the drafting of this bill.

Does she not think that this contradicts what the Prime Minister seemed to emphasize in his speech?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, throughout the year and a half after I introduced my private member's bill, many first nations community members said that the legislation was needed. It was exactly what they had asked for and it addressed their concerns. In fact, I introduced my bill as a result of hearing concerns from first nations community members.

We know this act would help to ensure that first nations would have democratic, accountable and transparent governments by requiring that first nations prepare these annual audited financial statements and a schedule of salaries and make them public to their members. This legislation is about that.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Warkentin Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I commend my colleague who is again supporting this bill. She brought it forward as a private member's bill and now we see it as a government bill.

I know the hon. member's constituency is similar to mine in that she represents many first nations communities. Like her riding, many people in my riding from first nations communities have asked me if I might be able to assist them in getting some of the information that is prescribed in this bill. I am happy to supply the list to hon. colleagues across the way who are looking for people who absolutely want to see this information. People are contacting my office on a weekly basis looking for assistance with this.

The member for Nanaimo—Cowichan suggested that there were already existing authorities in place to allow first nations members to access this information. Does my colleague from Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar know whether those authorities have been able to provide the information for her first nations members? I certainly have been unable to get the information for the folks in my riding.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the very good work that he does chairing the aboriginal affairs committee and for the work the committee does. I had an opportunity to present to that committee and I was very appreciative of the very thoughtful questions.

There are 74 first nations in Saskatchewan. Since the last election, I continue to receive many calls, emails and letters from first nation community members who continue to have difficulty accessing this information, either because they cannot find it or they have asked for it but have simply been refused.

As was mentioned earlier by our minister, the process to get this information is a very cumbersome one. However, the requests continue to come to my office and we continue to advise those members who call that we are very hopeful that this legislation will be passed in due course and that they will be able to get this information directly from their leaders.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my distinguished colleague, the member for Manicouagan.

It gives me great pleasure to speak to the bill so that the government can hear again how wrong-headed its approach is, not just for Bill C-27, but for much of what it has been hanging its hat on lately.

At the outset, the bill is unnecessary in that it ignores some simple ways to address the problems it seeks to solve. Bill C-27 is overly punitive and amounts to a real waste of valuable and much needed funds by duplicating efforts and increasing the bureaucratic burden on those first nations that do not already have self-governing regimes. It sets the course for costly legal battles and ignores the advice of the Auditor General to reduce the reporting burden placed on first nations. Worst of all, the bill was created without the consultation or involvement of first nations.

Bill C-27 is similar to a private member's bill the government is championing these days. The member just spoke to that. Bill C-377 is similar in that it seeks to force other bodies and organizations to do what the Conservative government is so thoroughly incapable of doing, which is to behave in a publicly accountable and transparent fashion. It is nothing short of ironic that we are debating the bill in the shadow of the ominous Trojan Horse budget bill, a budget that amounts to a leap of faith when put to the same test that Bill C-27 would force on to first nations.

We have just witnessed the government throttle the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer by refusing to provide the information needed for that office to report to parliamentarians in the manner that we have asked of him, in the manner that the Conservatives supported as opposition members and so thoroughly frustrate now that they are in government. We all welcomed how accountability and transparency were to be the hallmarks of the government and yet those principles are more notable by their absence than anything else when it comes to its actions.

The Accountability Act was the Conservatives' first piece of legislation after replacing the tired and corrupt Liberal Party in government. Only six years later, it is nothing more than a shell of broken ideals crushed under the weight of parliamentary bullying, influence peddling, lobbyists and allegations of electoral fraud.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Bob Zimmer

That is the NDP.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

The member from the other side is chastizing me. Obviously, we can see that those members know full well that we are talking about them and how awful they have been.

The Conservatives are setting out to force first nations to do what they themselves refuse to do. They are seeking to impose standards that are greater than those applied to politicians in many other elected jurisdictions in a way that creates more bureaucracy without really increasing accountability of first nations governments to their communities.

These standards and the costs associated with them are even more unrealistic when one considers the entirety of the circumstances, especially the recent budget cuts to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

We also cannot ignore the narrow scope of talking points that are the driving force behind this legislation. The maxim that worse case scenarios make bad legislation should be considered as we debate Bill C-27. Time and again we hear about a handful of overpaid first nations politicians, which leads to assumptions that are based far more on opinion than fact. Those scenarios, while unfortunate, are in no way among the most pressing the government faces with respect to our first nations communities. However, we are debating an unnecessary piece of legislation instead of working on ways to address more pressing needs, and that is a shame.

From the outset we know there is a problem because the intention of the bill is to duplicate something that already exists. To hear proponents of the bill speak, one would think that first nations report nothing about the funding they receive or the salaries and compensation provided to their leadership, when we know the opposite is true.

First nations produce year-end reports that include annual audited consolidated financial statements for the public funds provided to them. These reports include salaries, honoraria and travel expenses for all elected, appointed and senior unelected band officials.

First nations are also required to release statements to their membership about compensation earned or accrued by elected, appointed and unelected senior officials, and the amount of remuneration paid, earned or accrued by elected and appointed officials, which must be from all sources within the recipient's financial reporting entity, including amounts from economic development and other types of business corporations.

That is not being made widely known or acknowledged by the government. Instead, it is imposing a bill that goes out of its way to force a different method of financial reporting and the costs associated with that onto first nations.

The New Democrats do not share the government's view on the urgency of this issue. We believe that Bill C-27 must be considered in the context of the June 2011 findings of the Auditor General, which stated that despite repeated audits recommending numerous reforms over the last decade, the federal government had failed abysmally to address the worsening conditions for first nations.

That report tells us that the money just is not flowing to the problems but that it is not for lack of audits or reporting processes.

The Auditor General pointed out that the reporting burden on first nations had actually worsened in recent years despite that office's repeated calls to reduce the reporting burden. Worst of all, the findings showed how many of the reports were not even used by federal government departments and were not serving anything but bureaucratic processes. They are white elephants and the government is eagerly seeking to increase them.

This is a non-turn in the road for a government that has said that it is so dead set against red tape. Perhaps it is only red tape when it frustrates the goals of its main lobbyist friends and not so much when it comes to frustrating the efforts of people it does not spend as much time with.

However, the New Democrats are convinced that changes to how audited statements are presented to first nations do not need heavy-handed legislation. Any changes deemed necessary could be a requirement of funding arrangements that the department has each first nation government sign. We are concerned that this bill not only ignores the simple solution but is overly punitive as well.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing will have two and a half minutes remaining for her remarks and five minutes for questions and comments when the House next returns to debate on the motion.

The House resumed from June 19 consideration of the motion that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (elder abuse), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Protecting Canada's Seniors Act
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 5:30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division at second reading of Bill C-36.

Call in the members.