Mr. Speaker, as a proud Métis woman and the only Métis woman here in the House of Commons, I am pleased to stand and express my support for Bill C-575, First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
I must first take issue with some of what my Liberal colleague had to say. It seems that he has forgotten all of the accomplishments that the Conservative government has made with regard to aboriginal people in this very short period of time that we have been here. Although I understand that had the Liberals had just one more term following those 13 years, they might have done something for aboriginal people, I would remind him of what the Conservative government has done in under five years.
We delivered a historic, long overdue apology to aboriginal survivors of residential schools. We implemented the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We included reserves under the Canadian Human Rights Act. We settled record numbers of claims, well outperforming the Liberal record. We endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It goes on and on.
Now, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, in her very first term as MP, that is under two years that she has been here working on this, she adds to the Conservative accomplishments with the introduction of this long called for legislation.
Bill C-575 is an important legislative measure for all Canadians. It is not very complex and rather limited in scope. Indeed, this bill is clear, concise and targeted. It is important because it integrates into federal legislation a fundamental right that all Canadians should have: the right to know the salary of their elected representatives.
Bill C-575 recognizes this right to know by requiring the first nations to publish on an annual basis the salaries of their leaders and the reimbursement of expenses paid to their chiefs and councillors.
As the bill proposes, first nations would now be required by law to prepare a schedule of remuneration. This schedule would contain detailed financial information about each elected official of that community, how much each official gets paid for fulfilling his or her role, how much each official is reimbursed for expenses he or she incurs while carrying out public business, and exactly what type of expenses each official claims for reimbursement.
The bill would require every first nation to make its schedule of remuneration publicly available within 120 days after March 31 in each calendar year. The bill would empower the minister of Indian affairs and northern development to make public the schedule of any first nation.
Bill C-575 is clear, concise and sharply focused on ensuring first nations members can readily access detailed information on how much money their elected representatives earn in carrying out public business.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar for developing this bill, for bringing it to our attention today and for further enhancing the transparency, accountability and competence of first nations governments.
I say “further enhancing” because the Government of Canada is already taking measures to promote the transparency and accountability of first nations governments. Financial agreements between first nations governments and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada include provisions requiring those governments to submit annual audited financial statements itemizing all their expenses. These documents also contain tables showing the salaries, honorariums and travel expenses of the elected representatives and the senior officials appointed by the bands.
Some first nations, in the spirit of complete transparency, post their complete audited financial statements on their websites. We congratulate them for doing so, and we encourage first nations leaders to take steps of their own to make this financial information readily available to community members. Yet, as we are all now very well aware, current practice related to disclosure is completely inconsistent and uneven.
Some first nations make available information on spending and reimbursement of expenses only, and only when requested to do so. Some first nations governments refuse community members access to financial information, forcing the people requesting this information to approach Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Indeed, the department is too often made aware of situations in which community members cannot access audited financial statements or schedules of salaries. In these cases, department officials work with representatives of these governments to ensure that this information is released. If efforts to have a first nation release documents to its members are unsuccessful, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada will release that information to those who request it, guided by privacy protections and recent court decisions such as in the case of Montana.
Bill C-575 does away with this inconsistent, unreliable, catch-as-catch-can approach and replaces it with one that is consistent, reliable, predictable and transparent. The bill also clearly places the accountability on first nations governments to disclose remuneration in a manner similar to that of other governments. In fact my hon. friend's bill comes along at a perfect time. The approach to disclosure and transparency set out in Bill C-575 is a perfect complement to the steps that this government, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and many first nations governments and organizations are taking to improve financial operations and make those activities more transparent to Canadians.
The Government of Canada has made it a priority to make governments more transparent and more accountable to citizens. Governments must report to citizens on their expenditures and outcomes, and these reports must be clear and easily accessible. The Federal Accountability Act is a clear example of this commitment. This historic legislation includes measures to improve administrative transparency, oversight and accountability throughout the federal government.
Indian and Northern Affairs Canada is also taking steps to improve its financial operations and make them more transparent for Canadians. For years the chief audit and evaluation executive has been conducting audits, evaluations and targeted studies on departmental policies, initiatives and programs. He then prepares reports in which he presents recommendations to address weaknesses and improve performance.
Recently the department put in place an audit and evaluation committee. Made up of several senior departmental executives and financial experts from outside the department, the committee examines the results of audits, evaluations and studies and assesses actions taken by the department to respond to these findings.
On top of all of that, the federal government and the governments of first nations are working together to improve financial operations and make those activities more transparent to all Canadians, aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike. We are working together to develop consistent, consolidated, audited financial statements so it will be easier for people in first nations communities to access and understand band-related financial information and so it will be easier for first nations governments to improve their transparency, accountability and effectiveness.
We are working to implement a new policy on transfer payments, which will help us all do a better job of managing risks, and we are designing and implementing programs that improve the quality of life of members of first nations communities. That is all vitally important work that, when combined with Bill C-575, will help make all our governments more transparent, more accountable and more effective, more equal.
Unfortunately, I know that some people believe that we should not bother with Bill C-575. Those people think that we should concern ourselves only with improving transparency and accountability at the federal level and that our resources could be better spent on abolishing the Indian Act, conducting an in-depth review of the reserve system and putting in place auditor general and independent ombudsman positions for the first nations.
Let us forget all of that. Let us seize opportunities to make changes on a range of important issues. What was tried in the past was not working.
Let us find ways to make first nations communities stronger. Let us work together to help people in these communities live longer, healthier, more fulfilling lives.
Let us do all of that, but do not let all this work sidetrack us or stop us from making sure that first nations members know how much their elected representatives earn in carrying out the public's business.