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

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course we will be voting against this. This bill is actually a duplication of what is already there. It would put in a level of accountability never seen with other organizations. This was all because the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which is a friend of the Conservatives, said that, in its opinion, some first nations chiefs were making too much money. We should look at the average salary for chiefs. It is actually $60,000 and the average salary for councillors is about $31,000. Therefore, 50% of the chiefs earn less than $60,000 and only 5% earn more than $100,000.

When we look at that, it is quite evident that because there are perhaps special circumstances out there, the government feels it needs to change the whole thing instead of really addressing the critical issues that impact first nations, like housing, drinking water and education.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is very simple.

Concerning first nations, it seems to me that there should be a nation-to-nation consultation process to clarify this situation and implement a process that works for both parties.

Can my colleague expand on that? From what I can tell, this is yet another interventionist measure by the Conservatives, relying more on punishment than on finding a mutually agreeable solution.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right. I indicated, as did my colleagues, that this is a punitive measure. The government should be addressing the critical issues that are really impacting first nations and it should have done proper consultations before tabling such a bill.

We should not forget that a similar bill was tabled in the previous Parliament and major concerns were raised on it. For a government that says that it was looking at building a better relationship with first nations, through its apology to the residential schools survivors and through the crowns first meeting, we are seeing again that they are just being thrown other aspects of what the government feels is not accountable.

At the end of the day, we have a government that is undemocratic, unaccountable and not transparent. Over and over we have seen it, whether it is with the F-35s, the hotels or expensive orange juice, the government has refused to provide proper information so parliamentarians can do their work. Instead it chooses to attack our first nations people who are some of the most accountable people in Canada.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on her excellent speech.

Does she not think it would have been better to focus directly on the Indian Act—as all groups, including the first nations, are calling for—instead of creating a bill like this that will only bog down the administrative system even more? That is not what the first nations need.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question.

If we want to make changes, if we need to fix some problems with the first nations, we absolutely must hold consultations. The first nations are the ones that can tell us what will work best in their communities. Consultation is very important.

However, as I said about this government and transparency, it will just react to one or two situations instead of really looking at the overall picture of how to better help people in our communities.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very excited to start my speech on the financial transparency of first nations.

From the various speeches I have been regularly putting online, my constituents will be aware that I tend towards lifting the veil of darkness surrounding a number of issues specific to the first nations of Canada. These issues must be made public. After 500 years of a shared existence, the entire Canadian population is ready and able to learn about these realities that are too often ignored and forgotten.

There is a growing anti-establishment movement around the world. I am talking about international politics, but this is also evident at the local level. Just look at Quebec, where the public has been mobilizing. Of course, it is an international movement, since we are also seeing an anti-establishment movement in Europe, where people are questioning their government's actions and measures. What I will try to show here is that, of course, this increased assertiveness is universal, and that aboriginal communities are also experiencing the same problems and the same type of public mobilization.

Over the past year, we have discussed many topics related to my riding. My riding even received media coverage, which has rarely happened in the past, other than once, about 10 years ago, when the community mobilized and became more assertive.

A few months ago, the newspapers covered a specific situation involving a protest and the presence of the riot squad in my community. A roadblock had been set up on Highway 138. The situation did not last long, but it required police intervention.

People were protesting a hydroelectric development project promoted by the provincial authorities and supported by the community's management organization, the band council. And so, the people took action. Their actions at that time showed that they were rejecting certain policies and decisions made at the local level. The members of a first nations community were making a new socio-economic and political statement and questioning the action taken by government and local authorities with regard to decisions made locally.

When we analyze the changes and the political turmoil happening in the communities we can infer that there is a socio-political awakening and a mobilization among aboriginal people. This wave of assertiveness is invariably accompanied by internal pressure on community administrative bodies and demands for accountability in the management of the community's shared heritage. When I talk about shared heritage for the Innu people, I am talking about the land and the fisheries and wildlife resources.

As I have said many times, my riding covers over 200,000 km2 and is the traditional territory of the Innu and Naskapi people. I make special mention of this because it is important to understand that the band councils, the community management organizations, are a creation of the Indian Act. Under this act, the authority and jurisdiction of aboriginal people extends only to reserve lands. For example, my reserve is perhaps only 2 km in diameter, which is not very big.

The reason people are protesting more and joining forces has to do with land and resource management. Band councils, community management organizations, are also concerned about traditional territory and they are acting as interlocutors with both federal and provincial governments with respect to resource development initiatives. What we are seeing now is that the people, as individuals, as aboriginals, as Innu and Naskapi, are taking a stand and making their point.

The problem is that Aboriginal Affairs has imposed a cookie-cutter approach that requires every community across Canada to have a band council with a chief and councillors.

The same model exists in the United States and other colonies. This blanket approach has been applied across Canada. My ancestors were a fundamentally nomadic people who migrated across the land for several months of the year—as many as six months a year—in small family groups of about 10 individuals. Five or six hundred years ago, my community's culture made for minimal contact with other groups.

Within those groups, there were elders, and decisions were made within each separate group. There were no chiefs or counsellors per se other than the fact that, come summer, the Innu regularly met at the river's edge to take advantage of the wind that chased away mosquitoes. It is likely that consensus decisions were made then, when many Innu got together, but most of the time, people lived in isolated groups.

That is why we have this problem now and why people are no longer supporting some of the decisions made by band councils made up of chiefs and councillors. This model is not necessarily applicable to all communities.

Based on that observation, it is possible to consider that the circumstances favouring a healthy questioning of the ruling power, combined with the current political zeitgeist in the communities in my riding and across the province, can only be a sign of innovative ideas laying the foundation for a new social contract to benefit the masses, rather than just special interest groups.

And now I will get to the heart of the matter.

Although the stated purpose of Bill C-27 is to enhance the transparency of first nations people, it is up to the people, as individuals, to take the necessary action to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of governance in their respective nations.

What I am trying to emphasize here is that this is a contentious issue that must be addressed internally, from within these communities, concerning the management of both financial and natural resources. These decisions must be made within the communities themselves. In the past, Innu communities had a process we call “émulatoire”; it was a consensus process. When a problem arose within the clan, you simply confronted your adversary, the person with whom you had a conflict, and told that person the simple truth.

This is how things are still resolved today, and that is why the people of my community—and I will speak for all communities in Manicouagan, including Uashat, Unamen Shipu and Kawawachikamach—are able to confront their leaders and ultimately discover the truth about how resources are managed within the community.

The Conservatives are hardly in any position to demand accountability right now, since they have a very hard time sharing financial information themselves, concerning the management of this country.

I submit this respectfully.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, could the hon. member tell us, in his view, how aboriginals on the reserves in his riding might react to such a bill?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:05 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for her question.

I can already guarantee that this bill will not be received warmly since Canada's aboriginal communities are rather inclined to rise up against any interventionist initiative that interferes with their governance.

We are in a period of assertion and self-determination, and that is our ultimate goal. The communities are putting these strategies forward. This measure is paternalistic, which is nothing new really, but this time the government has gone too far. Believe me, the communities are not going to look very kindly on this.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments.

The government says that the bill has to be referred to committee, where the necessary changes will be made for the passage of this bill. I do not know whether my colleague agrees with me or not, but in the case of the Trojan Horse budget bill that was introduced, we tried to make improvements that would have softened the blow for some people and minimized the most serious repercussions.

What does he think? Does he truly believe that the Conservatives will adopt amendments in committee and be open to the opposition parties' amendments?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:10 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. After spending one year in this place, I humbly believe that measures concerning aboriginal affairs put forward by the Conservatives are just window dressing, as was somewhat the case for the meeting they organized, which was supposed to be historic and inclusive. It was just a photo op, an opportunity to get good press and look good.

When we take a closer look and even look back at what has actually been done, it is easy to see that it was window dressing and that the measures were proposed simply to score political points.

I highly doubt that the Conservatives will show any particular interest in the recommendations that may ultimately be made by the communities with respect to this bill which, by the way, is quite problematic.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, are the various communities going to support one another?

The Attikamekw live in my riding. Are the people from the hon. member's riding, for example, going to enter into agreements with other reserves to work together?

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:10 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

There is a kind of unity among various communities. However, there are differences across Canada, including linguistic differences, that are problematic. I have looked into it. People in my community are able to understand the Cree, the Algonquin and the Attikamekw peoples. There are linguistic differences, but everyone shares a common understanding.

I think that older people are better able to understand each other. This has been observed in the past. After 25,000 years of territorial occupation, I think there have been contacts and exchanges. There are also economic, political and social interests that vary from one community to the next. There is a kind of unity right now, particularly between the Innu and the Naskapi. Looking at my community and neighbouring communities, that is what I see now.

Of course, there is the AFNQL and the national Assembly of First Nations, but people often express differing opinions. That is fine. We cannot expect to achieve consensus in every area and on every issue.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

June 20th, 2012 / 8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand to speak to what I believe is a very important bill. In fact, I thought what was most interesting was the title, an act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of first nations.

When I think of financial accountability and transparency, I must admit that one of the first things that comes to my mind is the Minister of International Cooperation. Members will recall the $16 cup of orange juice. I think it was orange juice from concentrate. Canadians were quite upset about that issue. Then we found out about the limousine services. This minister, after getting caught, seemed to admit that maybe she did do something wrong and would repay the taxpayer as a result. Therefore, it is with a little bit of irony that I approach the bill and I see across the way on a daily basis that particular minister who has incurred some fairly outrageous expenditures. I think the $16 glass of orange juice is one of them.

I say this because there is no doubt that there are issues with tax dollars being used in one form or another. With Bill C-27, we are talking about public tax dollars that go toward our first nation community in the sense of wanting more accountability and transparency. I do not question the importance of that. However, equally, it is important for us to highlight that, through different forms of sensationalism, an issue can be brought to the public's attention with fairly significant repercussions.

One of those repercussions, which I made reference to, was from the $16 glass of orange juice. That does not necessarily mean that every minister is out there buying a glass of orange juice at $16, at least I suspect not. I have not asked through freedom of information or with an order paper question, but I am going to assume that the vast majority of cabinet ministers are not ordering $16 cups of orange juice and then billing the taxpayer.

However, with Bill C-27, the government is trying to paint with a very wide brush many individuals, leaderships and others within our first nations. The government is trying to give the message as if the whole group of them are in need of some sense of being held accountable and ensuring there is more transparency.

The reality is quite different. We find that in many cases our first nations have a higher sense of accountability than we would find in the government. First nations do that in good part by their own will by using the Internet and the public meetings that they have on the reserves as an example.

This is where we really need to be concerned. It is the approach in which the government tries to address issues of this nature that has to cause a great deal of concern. The government does have a choice: working with our aboriginal community, or trying to force things onto our aboriginal community. If it does the latter, one would expect the stakeholders to be quite offended, and justifiably so.

To what degree has the Conservative government made any genuine attempt to sit down with the stakeholders before even presenting this piece of legislation?

I challenge the government members to stand in their place and tell us exactly what form of consultation they had with the stakeholders on this particular issue before drafting the legislation and bringing it into the House of Commons.

I would argue that is the difference, in essence, between the Liberal Party and the Conservative/Reform Party: there is a great deal more respect toward our first nations, toward our aboriginal people, coming from the Liberal Party than we will see from the Conservative Party.

We look for the type of actions the government takes in order to be able to show it is taking an issue seriously. The best example, an example that I think speaks volumes and one of the most significant actions that has been taken in the last 10, 15, 20 years was when Paul Martin was the Prime Minister and he was able to bring the stakeholders together. The stakeholders came together and came up with what was known as the Kelowna accord. The Kelowna accord addressed a wide variety of issues. What I like the most about the Kelowna accord is that it was an accord that was achieved by working with the different stakeholders. That is what made the Kelowna accord an agreement that was worthy of the support of the House of Commons.

Imagine the disappointment back in 2006, when the Conservatives ultimately got rid of the Kelowna accord. It is one of the sad stories of the House of Commons, when the New Democrats and the Conservatives voted against the Paul Martin government and ultimately ended a lot of progressive ideas and actions that were being taken at that time.

There are many of us who will not forget that. Whether it was child care, health care reforms that ensured more health care dollars going into the system, or the Kelowna accord, we valued these programs and felt they were worthy of support. We were quite disappointed when the government, in its wisdom, made the decision to get rid of the Kelowna accord, at a great cost.

Last year we had the incident out in Attawapiskat, which garnered a great deal of attention nationwide. The types of issues that were being discussed in the media, in the one-on-one discussions with those individuals who went to the reserve, and in many discussions having taken place here in Ottawa, were in fact a part of the Kelowna accord.

The Kelowna accord was not just an agreement; it was an agreement that brought in cash resources and good will, not only from the Government of Canada but from the other stakeholders. It had in place, within that accord, issues dealing with accountability. It included a mutual accountability framework, which would have addressed many of the issues this bill is trying to deal with.

Upon reflection, I look at this issue and recognize it as a very important issue. I can recall a former colleague of mine from the Manitoba legislature who came to Ottawa and ultimately became head of the Treasury Board, Reg Alcock. Reg had a very strong passion for the aboriginal people and believed we needed to do more.

I made reference to Paul Martin and his efforts. We could talk about the interim leader. When the interim leader was the premier of Ontario and there were concerns related to water, our current interim leader made the decision that this is an issue that has to be dealt with. He was not prepared to wait for Ottawa to try to resolve it. He felt this was something we needed to get directly involved in, even though many would argue it was a federal responsibility.

We need to recognize that, in order to deal with the many different aboriginal issues, there needs to be a high sense of co-operation from all of the different stakeholders. We need to recognize that the tribal chiefs and councils have an important role to play in this and that it cannot work without their support going forward. In fact, they need to provide, and have provided in many ways, the leadership on the issue. We need to recognize that it goes beyond that in the sense that the federal government needs to treat the issue and the leadership from within the first nations community more seriously, provide more respect and start working with people on how we can facilitate what needs to get done in order to improve opportunities for all people.

If the stakeholders do not get directly involved, the chances of success are greatly diminished. When that is diminished, we are really saying that we are prepared to sacrifice the lives of many children. That is why the Liberal Party looks at this issue and says that we are losing time by not being more aggressive on this file. We need the Reg Alcocks, the Paul Martins, the Phil Fontaines and the many other leaders from within the first nations community to feel that there is a high sense of willingness to move forward on these important issues, to get engaged, to start talking about it and to have the dialogue.

The bill itself is all about financial accountability. What is the message the government is trying to convey to Canadians, in particular first nations, about how it feels on this particular issue? Given its lack of consultation and willingness to work with the first nations leadership, I am drawn to the conclusion that it wants to send a political message that is of a very negative nature, which causes a great deal of concern.

Members should be very much aware, as I cited earlier, that a $16 glass of orange juice got a fair number of Canadians upset. If every minister were as abusive in terms of buying orange juice, I believe the public would be exceptionally upset with the government. That is the reason that I believe the message it is trying to send is that of a negative nature. It is saying that there is not enough transparency and accountability on reserves and that is the reason it is bringing forward this legislation. Then, no doubt, the government provides stories in the background about why it is justified.

There were alternatives. The primary alternative would have been to work with the stakeholders to see how this legislation could have been brought in with the support of all members of the House of Commons.

I ask members to imagine that the Conservatives had the support of the NDP and the Liberals on Bill C-27 and that they were able to garner that support because they went to the stakeholders with their primary concern being the children living on and off our reserves.

A vast majority of the first nations leadership want accountability. They are not fearful of accountability or transparency. I know my constituents want accountability and transparency but that applies to the government and what the government is doing, such as the $16 orange juice. They want the Government of Canada to be accountable. They want accountability at the provincial level and the city level. They want accountability of all tax dollars that are being spent. They want to ensure there is transparency.

I can assure members of the House that there is a willingness, even, I suspect, from some of the backbench Conservatives, to see more transparency within the federal government. If there were a free or maybe a secret ballot vote we might see some of them saying yes to it.

I can assure members there are many individuals who are part of the stakeholders I am referring to who support accountability and transparency. I believe they would not object to a bill that affirms those beliefs but it should have been done in co-operation. Instead, we have a bill that has been brought forward to score some political points. I do not agree with the political points they are attempting to score here, but I believe that is the reason they are bringing the bill forward.

What will happen as a direct result? The legislation does have some serious problems with it. Our critic for aboriginal affairs is a lady who has been exceptionally passionate about a wide variety of aboriginal issues and has consistently been there and listened to what individuals on or off reserve have had to say about it. She has consistently, on behalf of the Liberal Party, raised issues that are impacting our first nations to the floor of the House of Commons. These are the types of issues we have been raising. Bill C-27 is no different. Nothing will change. We will bring forward amendments to try to make the bill more sellable and more fair.

Some of it is almost a no-brainer. For example, why would we obligate a business that is on a reserve to open its books when it might be competing with other businesses outside the reserve, or even if it is a business that is located outside. The point is that there are many issues within the bill that need to be addressed.

At the end of the day, we are hoping that the government will be open to amendments. Ideally, from the Liberal Party's perspective, how wonderful it would be if the committee itself actually made the decision to go out to a reserve and listen to a reserve first-hand on the bill. Why not identify half a dozen reserves, sit down as a committee and listen to what the reserves have to say about the bill, if a bill of whatever nature is something that would be acceptable? It would be a bold move by the government but I would suggest--

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Scarborough--Guildwood.

First Nations Financial Transparency Act
Government Orders

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the hon. member recognized and took note of the supreme irony of introducing a bill on the very day that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has to sue the government in order to get basic information on which all of us rely in order to make informed decisions in this place. Is it not hugely ironic that a bill that is designed for transparency and accountability for some people does not apply to the government?

We have the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, created and given a mandate by the Conservative government in the first bill that it came in on, and when the Parliamentary Budget Officer asks for basic information from 80-some departments and agencies, which is their spending plans going forward, more than 70 of them just blow him off on the instructions of the Prime Minister. It appears that there is accountability for some but not for the Conservative government. How ironic is that?

I just wonder whether the hon. member would consider moving an amendment and that the amendment might be that the accountability in this bill be paralleled by accountability by the Government of Canada, and that we have the same transparency in the Government of Canada that is expected in this bill.