Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the amendment to subclause 10(3) of Bill C-7, the proposed first nations governance act.
As members may be aware, as tabled last June, subclause 10(1) of the bill requires band councils to identify, advise their members of and resolve significant breaches of their financial management and accountability codes or the fallback regulations.
Under subclause 10(3), the minister would retain discretion to do assessments of the band's financial situation. The bill does not currently limit when these assessments may be conducted. However, the minister would, and I emphasize this, only as a last resort also retain discretion to require remedial measures in the following circumstances:
(a) a deterioration of the band's financial health that compromises the delivery of essential programs and services;
(b) the failure to make financial statements...available...; or
(c) the denial of an opinion, or an adverse opinion, by the band's auditor on the band's financial statements.
Financial accountability is an important component of all democratic governments. It is therefore one component of the proposed first nations governance act.
The proposed act will help ensure that first nations governments involve their members when adverse financial circumstances arise in their communities. During the first phase of consultations, many first nations citizens said they wanted more information about their communities, including information on financial matters. The existing provisions of the bill respond to that input.
During public hearings conducted by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, Northern Development and Natural Resources, first nations expressed concerns over the scope of the minister's powers under subclause 10(3). During its review of the bill, the committee examined subclause 10(3) more closely and made significant recommendations that respond to those concerns.
The committee is recommending that the bill contain authority for the federal government to develop regulations defining what constitutes a “deterioration” of a band's financial health and the nature and scope of the minister's power to intervene and implement remedial measures.
Another amendment would provide the minister with the authority to delegate the assessment of a band's financial situation to an external person or body, such as a first nations institution, which would then report back to the minister on appropriate remedial measures.
The committee also paid particular attention to the fact that assessments could be carried out at any time. The government agrees that subclause 10(3) should provide more clarity with respect to when these assessments may be undertaken. This amendment will therefore ensure that these assessments can only be done under the same extreme circumstances, already mentioned, that apply to the implementation of remedial measures.
As members of the House are aware, a first round of consultations took place to help inform the development of the proposed first nations governance act. A second round, led by the standing committee, took place to examine the contents of Bill C-7 and to obtain input from first nations in order to improve the bill.
Once the proposed first nations governance act receives royal assent, a third round of consultations will begin, this time dealing with regulations and implementation issues. As mentioned, these consultations will include the development of the regulations defining the nature and scope of the minister's powers under subclause 10(3). These consultations will ensure that these and other regulations passed to support the proposed act respond to the needs and aspirations of first nations communities across Canada.
In closing, let me say that the government appreciates the work of the standing committee in strengthening subclause 10(3) and encourages the members of the House to support this worthy amendment that builds on this excellent body of work.