House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was training.


First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I became aware that this was a long-standing issue for many first nations community members who had tried to get access to this information.

I also, in speaking with my colleagues, understood that this was a bill that was very much needed in order to bring about the accountability and transparency that is very much needed in first nations communities so that members can determine for themselves whether their chiefs and councillors are being accountable and transparent through the levels that they set for themselves.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am interested in the bill and I am studying it carefully to understand more about what it says. I think it offers some important understandings around transparency and disclosure that I think members of the House of Commons need to discuss and address.

I wonder whether the hon. member across actually has disclosed all her expenses and all her reimbursements from the House of Commons at a level that, say, I have done myself.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, if the member would choose to visit my website, he would see that I have.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar for this important bill.

I know aboriginal people in Manitoba have long been calling out for measures such as this. We have even seen initiatives by our own Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs similar to what the member has done.

I want to ask her what perhaps is the opinion of some of the aboriginal members in her home province, which actually has more aboriginal people than Manitoba, believe it or not. I know there is likely very similar opinion in her province as well.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for the very important work that he is doing on the aboriginal caucus.

I have heard from first nations community members and non-first nations community members alike that this is a bill that is very much needed. I have received emails thanking me for bringing the bill forward.

We have 74 first nations in the province of Saskatchewan, and there are some shining examples of how a first nation can prosper when they are doing things right and are accountable and transparent.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Todd Russell Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise to debate Bill C-575, which was brought forward by the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

I am speaking in my capacity as a member of Parliament for Labrador, in my capacity as an aboriginal person, and with the experience of someone who has led an aboriginal organization of some 6,000 people for 11 years prior to coming to this House.

The issues and principles of accountability and transparency are the highest principles that one can aspire to in elected office in whatever form, whether it is municipal, provincial, aboriginal or federal politics. There is nothing wrong with affirming and standing up for the principles of accountability and transparency.

In 2004-05, after 18 months of negotiation, collaboration and consultation at the high-water mark between aboriginal people and the Government of Canada, we developed something called the Kelowna Accord. Under the Kelowna Accord, there was an elaborate, fulsome accountability for results framework for aboriginal people in this country, the first nations people in this country. It was broad based and comprehensive.

It was not just about reporting a simple number. It was more than that. It was about how to deliver results for people at the community level. It involved the element of transparency, but it was about how to deliver results for people at the community level. The accountability was not only at the first nations level, it was at the government level, the federal government level.

We have responsibilities as parliamentarians when we make decisions, when we dispense funds, when we enter into agreements, collaborative agreements with first nations and other aboriginal organizations.

The accountability was mutual. It was not one-sided. It was not directed. It was not just targeted. It was accountability for all, for aboriginal and non-aboriginal alike.

It also included a first nations auditor general, an independent body funded to oversee the accountability framework to make sure that it was being implemented. This was broad based. This was creative. This was the way forward in terms of accountability and transparency.

When the Conservative government came to power, it killed the Kelowna Accord. It killed that process of accountability. It killed the concept of a first nations auditor general who would have dealt with these issues five years ago.

For five years, what has the Conservative government done about this so-called accountability and transparency in the aboriginal community? It has done nothing and it has said nothing on the issue of accountability and transparency, for five years, either for itself when it comes to delivering results for aboriginal people or in the context of the aboriginal communities themselves.

Let us look at elements of the bill. The member, by her own admission, says much of what is in the bill is already being done. A financial statement approved by a chartered accountant is being done. The member admitted that it is being done already in the contribution agreement.

The member says generally accepted accounting principles have to be applied and there has to be an auditor. It is being done. God forbid the member is admitting that the government does not compel people to comply with those two provisions. In fact, they do in the contribution agreements. The member has admitted as such. The member has said there should be a schedule of remuneration. It is already being done.

There is the element of transparency. How is information accessed and how is it clarified? The member knows quite well that the Indian affairs minister had the power in 2005, when the new Conservative government came into being, and has the power now to make sure that disclosure is there for first nations and for anyone else who wants to go and look at that particular information.

It is not fair to say or to imply that none of it is being done or that it cannot be done, even under existing protocols, program guidelines or, indeed, the law, such as the Indian Act. Therefore, the question is why the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has not compelled this to be done with his own authority under the Indian Act. Why can he not do it? Why did he choose not to do it?

Why now, after five years of saying and doing nothing, do we have a private member's bill, not a government-led initiative around this issue but a private member's bill? This gets to the issue of process and intent, which is just as fundamental. There is the legal duty to consult. The courts have told us we have a legal duty to consult with aboriginal people on issues that affect their rights and treaties. Can the member answer if this has been done? Has the duty to consult been met?

The government, only a few days ago, said it now endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Is this piece of legislation, in terms of the process not the content, compliant with those principles outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? If it is not, then the government's words are hollow.

The government said it wanted to do things differently in the era after the apology of 2008. Is there any evidence in the way the government brought this forward that it is in fact doing anything differently? We will let first nations, aboriginal people and Canadians judge for themselves whether it is doing anything differently.

Let us ask as well whether it believes in the law that says aboriginal people have the right of self-government. What does that mean? I will ask the member to answer that question. Does she believe in that principle? Does she believe in the inherent right of self-government? I would say that the evidence speaks to the contrary.

What is the intent, then? If it is already being done, what is the intent? I would like to give the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar the benefit of the doubt and say it is being done for legitimate or substantive reasons, but I truly cannot find evidence of that.

I believe it is an attempt to brand all first nations chiefs and councillors as somehow corrupt. I believe that in some ways it is making an insinuation about the nature of first nations leadership and governance. I believe that it perpetuates myths and stereotypes in society that sometimes exist about aboriginal people and, in this specific case, first nations people. That is what the evidence tells me. That is what I feel it says, because there were different ways of doing it. There were different processes that could have been undertaken to get to the same place.

In order for a piece of legislation to work, it should be done in collaboration and consultation, and we should support the substantive issues surrounding it, such as housing, water and education. Liberals stand for transparency and accountability in all governments, including first nations, and we will fight for accountability and transparency with respect, in collaboration and in consultation with those affected, and we will do it by being critical of this particular bill and asking the tough questions that need to be asked around Bill C-575.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I am proud to speak to Bill C-575, An Act respecting the accountability and enhanced financial transparency of elected officials of First Nations communities.

First of all, the Bloc Québécois is opposed to Bill C-575, even though we completely agree that every elected official must be held accountable to the public.

In our opinion, the bill goes much beyond that principle. It asks first nations to increase accountability by submitting new reports to the federal government, when the government already has all the information it needs, as stated in the Auditor General's 2002 report.

The Auditor General asked the federal government to meet with the first nations to improve the procedures that are already in place and to ensure that the many reports produced are useful to the community.

When one community submits over 160 reports a year to obtain operational funding—over 100,000 reports per year across Canada—it is a bit simplistic of the federal government that manages these reports to look only at the reports deemed useful for the first nations by the Auditor General.

Bill C-575 does not honour past agreements and past efforts to respect the principle of nation-to-nation relationships. The federal Conservative government prefers to go ahead with a private member's bill that imposes an underlying principle instead of taking into account the work that has already been done.

As the chief of the Assembly of First Nations pointed out in October 2010, Bill C-575 flies in the face of the Auditor General's reports and agreements with the federal government to explore new approaches to accountability in order to achieve better results for first nations. To quote the chief:

In 2005 and 2006, the AFN and the Government of Canada agreed to jointly explore new approaches to accountability to lead to better results for first nations. This work was grounded in our nations’ priorities and mirrored the principles of accountability that guide the Auditor General: clear roles and responsibilities; clear performance expectations; balanced expectations and capacities; credible reporting; and reasonable review and adjustment. Canada’s involvement in this work ended in 2006 with no explanation.

According to a 2002 Auditor General's report entitled “Streamlining First Nations Reporting to Federal Organizations”, 168 reports are submitted every year for each reserve so they can receive funding from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Health Canada, the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

It seems that the number of reports to be submitted has not really changed since 2002 and that the federal government has ignored the observations, conclusions and recommendations of those reports. A wealth of information can be found in those millions of pages, including the salaries of chiefs and elected officials, information uncovered during audits carried out by various departments.

It is important to understand that funding agreements and report submissions constitute transfer agreements that are subject to departmental controls. They are in fact agreements based on accountability.

Reports prepared by the communities are not always useful to them and generally do not reflect their priorities. According to the Auditor General, this is because the reporting requirements are dictated to them, and not determined through consultations.

The report concluded, and I quote:

While reporting requirements need to be streamlined, the underlying program structures are an obstacle to a more effective system. Instead of information on narrowly-defined program activities, reporting needs to provide meaningful information to First Nations and to the federal government. Fundamental change is required, and we suggest criteria to guide future assessment of the reporting system.

The report also recommended consulting the first nations in order to target their needs and ensure that the reports prepared by communities are not only useful to those communities, but are not constantly duplicated.

It is clear to the Bloc Québécois that there are a lot of problems with the Conservative government's approach to dealing with first nations communities. What the government is trying to do looks like a campaign to discredit all the first nations chiefs and their communities.

With Bill C-575, the government is trying to distract us from the chronic underfunding of the first nations. We have only to think of the 2% per year cap on increases in education funding, even though first nations population growth is over 6%. Yet the government has fiduciary responsibility for the first nations and manages their assets.

The chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, had this to say in an October 2010 press release:

What is needed is support for First Nations governments and recognition of First Nations authority. Further, we need an approach that will move accountability forward in meaningful ways including ensuring stable and fair funding practices between Canada and First Nations ensuring equity and fairness. These together will increase responsibility and the capacity to deliver good government, effective services and hope for our people....

Let's use this opportunity to kick start a discussion that will deal with the real issues to better ensure that First Nations can be accountable to their people and the government can be accountable to First Nations for its spending and results. Together we can and must chart a path that begins with respect, settles and upholds long outstanding obligations of the federal government, and moves forward to build strong First Nation governments.

The Bloc Québécois believes that the future rests in a partnership that is constructive as well as respectful of each party's legitimate interests. On the federal stage, the Bloc Québécois has made aboriginal issues one of its priorities.

And we are not the only ones. The World March of Women is calling for respect for aboriginal women's rights and is asking states to implement measures to ensure that aboriginal women and children are fully protected against all forms of violence.

I would like to take advantage of this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to acknowledge the work done by two organizations in my riding to raise awareness about this issue: Contact'L de Varennes, a women's network, and the Entre Ailes women's centre in Sainte-Julie. On November 12, together with those organizations, my National Assembly counterpart, Monique Richard, and I launched the 12 days of action to end violence against women. And I am wearing a white ribbon in support of that cause.

These two organization are leading the noble fight to eliminate all forms of violence against women. They respectfully and compassionately offer support and comfort to women who really need it.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill C-575 and I will begin by quoting article 4 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It reads:

Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.

It is troubling today that we are speaking to a bill on which there appears to have been absolutely no consultations with first nations in this country.

This bill is, in part, entitled, “an act respecting the accountability”. I would argue that this legislation has very little to do with accountability and much more to do with reporting. It would simply add another layer of reporting to bands that are already overburdened with reporting.

The bill would not ensure that chiefs and councils are accountable to the people who elect them. The bottom line is that it is up to the nations themselves to determine what is fair and reasonable compensation. I want to refer briefly to the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada website. This website has a couple of items about setting salaries and disclosure of salary information.

On setting salaries, it says:

The determination of an elected official's remuneration in a First Nations community is ultimately established by the First Nation government.

Under disclosure of salary information, there are already provisions for disclosure of salary information. It says:

In addition to federal funding, First Nations may derive revenue from other sources, such as band-owned businesses and arrangements with other levels of government. This revenue may be used in a variety of ways, potentially including salaries for elected officials. As with other levels of government, duly elected officials of First Nations are responsible for determining their compensation. In accordance with provisions in their funding agreements, First Nation councils must provide the Department with audited financial statements annually. Under these agreements, these audited statements are to be made available to members of the First Nations communities.

We can see that there is something in place to provide this information to first nation communities.

It goes on to say:

The Department does not, however, disclose information regarding the compensation for individual Chiefs or council members to the public due to legal considerations including the Privacy Act, case law such as the Montana decision....

I did not hear the member talk about how what she is proposing does not contravene the Montana decision where it clearly outlines that this kind of public disclosure was not appropriate.

We have heard about the Auditor General, but I specifically want to refer to testimony. I talked about the overburdening of reporting. On May 9, 2006, when the Auditor General was before the special committee on Bill C-2, the Federal Accountability Act, she said in her testimony:

On first nations, we make reference to a reporting study that we did back in December of 2002. When we looked at a number of first nations to see how many reports they actually had to produce for only four government departments, we found that they had to produce 200 and more reports in a year.

Later on, she said:

Four of the reports were audited financial statements, and another 52 reports were dealing with financial matters. There is often a financial report for each individual program as well as an overall financial report.

She went on to say:

At the time, we said that there really needed to be a streamlining of the reporting, that there had to be a consolidation of reports. We asked if it wouldn't be better, quite frankly, to have people delivering front-line services rather than filling out reports.

She went on to say that they were going to do an update on the status report but that a lot of reporting and audit already goes on in first nation communities. In fact, she confirmed that 96% of all first nations filed their large annual report on time and without incident.

One really needs to wonder what the purpose is of this legislation.

There are already a number of financial instruments in place that govern reporting. I want to refer to the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act. This particular act sets out how grants and contributions are made to first nations and regulations made under this act govern contribution agreements like the Canada-first nations funding agreement.

I obviously do not have time in my short time to go through every section, but section 4.7 deals with accountability to members and it outlines principles of transparency, disclosure and redress. Section 4.8 on accountability to recipients outlines the principles of transparency, disclosure and redress.

Some aspects of the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act outline what happens if one defaults or does not comply with the legislation. So there is currently a mechanism in place that deals with the reporting of various financial aspects of how bands are managed.

I want to touch briefly on a section of the Indian Act. Section 83(1) states:

...the council of a band may, subject to the approval of the Minister, make by-laws for any or all of the following purposes...,

(d) the payment of remuneration, in such amount as may be approved by the Minister, to chiefs and councillors, out of any moneys raised pursuant to paragraph (a);

We can see that in the Indian Act, the minister has oversight on remuneration and this is usually done by a band council resolution.

The Conservatives put together a blue ribbon panel in 2006 but virtually nothing in that blue ribbon panel has been enacted. However, one item on page 8 of the blue ribbon panel said that fiscal arrangements with first nations governments were complex, reflecting not only the varied circumstances of the 630 first nations in Canada, but also that payments to first nations governments are or ought to be more like intergovernmental transfers than typical grants and contributions.

I can assure hon. members that when we are looking at intergovernmental transfers, I cannot image the government asking the provinces to justify how much they pay their premiers, their MLAs or their MPPs. If the Conservative blue ribbon panel was recommending intergovernmental transfers, it does recognize a different kind of relationship.

I want to touch briefly on the AFN accountability measures. In 2005 and in 2006, the Assembly of First Nations made a number of recommendations to the Conservative government in terms of working together around accountability. There was a January 2006 report that said accountability for results. The report used the principle from the Auditor General. The report says that the Auditor General of Canada has defined accountability as a relationship based on the obligations to demonstrate, review and take responsibility for performance, both the results achieved in light of agreed expectations and the means used. The report then goes on to talk about adapting the principles for accountability of the Auditor General.

The Assembly of First Nations represents chiefs and councils throughout this country. Its members do not speak on behalf but they have a role in terms of facilitating. They are clearly in support of the Auditor General's principles. These principles are as follows:

Clear roles and responsibilities. Roles and responsibilities should be well understood and agreed on by the parties.

Clear performance expectations. The objectives, the expected accomplishments, and the constraints, such as resources, should be explicit, understood, and agreed on.

Balanced expectations and capacities. Performance expectations should be linked to and balanced with each party's capacity to deliver.

Credible reporting. Credible and timely information should be reported to demonstrate what has been achieved, whether the means used were appropriate, and what has been learned.

Reasonable review and adjustment. Fair and informed review and feedback on performance should be carried out by the parties, achievements and difficulties recognized, appropriate corrective action taken, and appropriate consequences carried out.

The Assembly of First Nations offered to engage in a collaborative process to develop the kinds of concrete initiatives that would allow all parties to implement the Auditor General's principles. However, here has been no action. It is a bit puzzling why we have a private member's bill before the House that did not engage in consultation, has not examined the instruments that are already available to government to look at that reporting relationship, does nothing to address the fact that chiefs and councils end up reporting to Indian and Northern Affairs and not to the people in their community. It is quite unusual that we would have a bill that could have a profound impact on how people operate and yet has not taken any of those reasonable steps to ensure that it is not opening up something that it simply cannot control.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba


Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

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.


First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise tonight to speak to Bill C-575.

At the initial presentation from the presenter of this bill, in the question period, I asked the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar who she had consulted in the formulation and development of this bill and who was supporting the bill, including any organizations. I was expecting her to give me at least one group or person who she consulted with, or at least one supporter. Surely there should be at least one. However, she did not answer that question, which caused me to wonder about that.

We all know how much work is involved in developing a private member's bill. I would have expected, if she has developed this bill, that she would have been consulting with first nations communities in her riding, in her province or somewhere around the country.

As far as I can tell, based on her answer to my question, she has not consulted with a single one, not a single first nation, not a single member of a first nation. As to whom she actually has consulted, of course, we are none the wiser on that point.

Mr. Speaker are we really out of time? Is there not even one minute left?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

We started private member's business at 5:16 p.m., and from the clock I look at, it is 6:16 p.m., and so that would be the full hour. Not to worry; the hon. member will have eight and a half minutes left to finish his remarks.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:15 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to follow up on a question I asked a few weeks ago in the House. Not having received a satisfactory answer, I thought I would pursue it this evening. I hope to get a substantial answer.

An independent study released by various organizations, such as the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Wheat Board and Keystone Agricultural Producers, showed that farmers were being gouged for rail service to the tune of $200 million a year. Calls for a costing review have gone unanswered.

I asked the minister when he was going to put a stop to this robbery by the railways. I said that the money of hard-working farmers who have already overpaid needed to be returned.

The answer I received was not to my satisfaction. I was told that farmers cannot depend on my party, that the Conservative government usually performs for farmers, acts in their best interests and that the Conservatives will not take any lessons from us. I wanted to pursue this and perhaps get to the bottom of it, now that we are not in the show of question period.

I have a letter written to the minister by Mr. Ken Eshpeter, who is president of the Battle River Railway, a newly founded new generation co-op whose mission it is to provide farmers a marketing and transportation alternative while preserving valuable infrastructure.

Although his letter mainly concerns the loss of producer cars, he does say that in the mid-1990s the total cost of grain handling and rail line consolidation was downloaded on to the farmers. Because of that shift in the cost of services, both big grain and big transportation have benefited immensely financially, but farmers have not.

This does not just concern those in the agriculture sector. I recently received a letter from the Forest Products Association of Canada. It wants to draw to our attention the significant challenges the industry faces with respect to rail service and to alert us of the industry's strong opposition to a recommendation by the Rail Freight Service Review Panel to defer for a minimum three year period any legislative or regulatory action on this issue.

The association says that the forest products industry and other commodity shippers have endured poor service and high freight rates while awaiting legislative action to address the lack of competition in Canada's rail freight transportation service.

It is asking us to do the responsible thing and to take action on this.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture stated in a press release on October 15 that the federal government must act now. It stated in the press release:

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture and its railway coalition members have again renewed their demand that [the] Transport Minister...instruct the Canadian Transportation Agency to immediately conduct a full costing review of railway grain shipping. In light of the interim report released last week by the government's rail service review panel, this request is justified....

“The federal government must act now”, said Ron Bonnett, CFA President. “Their own review panel has confirmed what we have been saying for the last two years. CP and CN operate in a dual monopoly system and continue to possess market power over many of their customers. The railways have historically fought off competitive measures such as open running rights and opposed regulations to maintain this monopoly”.

I am here to get some answers. Hopefully we can see some positive movement by the government. I hope the parliamentary secretary can address this.

6:20 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta


Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I know the member was right in some of what he said, but farmers cannot count on the NDP. As we are aware, NDP members seem to vote against all our motions to help farmers. They voted against our position when farmers clearly indicated they did not want a Wheat Board in western Canada anymore.

They voted against the infrastructure stimulus fund. In fact, every area of the country received benefits from the infrastructure fund, yet that member and his party voted against it. They have voted against arenas, bridges, roads and the 430,000 jobs this Conservative government has created.

When it comes to Canadian farmers, he is absolutely right. Canadians can count on the Conservatives to help them and not on the NDP because it votes against everything. I know he is clear on that.

The government also recognizes that both farmers and railways play a very key role in Canada's economic prosperity. In fact, our country was built on railways and the ability to extend and connect our great country.

As a government, we will ensure the railways and the customers who depend on them are well positioned to meet the challenges, not so much in Canada because we do not compete against ourselves. We are competing against other countries such as the United States, the European Union, Asia, et cetera. We want to be more competitive. We want to ensure that shippers and railways work together to create a net benefit for themselves and, at the same time, all Canadians. We are going to continue to do that.

Over the past 27 years, western grain transport has shifted from a regime of rate controls and heavy government subsidies toward a progressively more commercial framework. Fortunately, under this Conservative government that has happened and it has been very successful.

The revenue cap regime was introduced in 2000 based on over a century of evidence of the shortcomings of cost-based regulation, including massive government subsidies and a lack of incentives for railways to invest in their infrastructure. The rail infrastructure was falling apart across the country.

Under previous approaches that kept rates artificially low for farmers, the railways incurred significant losses and were unable to invest in grain cars or rail lines. Substantial government subsidies were required to keep western grain transport viable, including almost $540 million for the purchase of hopper cars and $4.8 billion, from 1967 to 1983, to subsidize the railways losses on grain transportation. Imagine the drain on our economy with these massive subsidies.

Another $1.3 billion, from 1986 to 1990, was spent to rehabilitate branch lines because of the failure of railways to invest in their infrastructure, because of exactly what the NDP suggested, which is to subsidize them. We also spent $7.9 billion, between 1982 and 1996, to subsidize freight rates. Imagine the drag that kind of thing had on the economy.

The current revenue gap regime creates incentives and it continues to make Canada and the Canadian economy prosperous. We are going to stand up for Canadians and Canadian farmers.

6:20 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we hear more of these cheap political shots when we thought we could get some answers.

The government is always saying that NDP members do not support this budget or that budget. When it brings in corporate tax cuts at the expense of pensioners, students, hog producers and other Canadians who could use this money, of course we do not support a budget. That should be clear.

Farmers, farming organizations and the forest industry are saying they want a costing review. There is nothing saying that the NDP wants to subsidize the railways. We want a costing review to ensure that farmers and people using the railways do not get gouged. They are getting gouged because there is a monopoly. There are two railways that run the structure.

If members were to go to the agriculture committee, I bet every member from every party would say that farmers were getting gouged. All we are saying is we should be doing the review, getting to the bottom of it and helping these people.

6:25 p.m.


Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, not only do they vote against the stimulus package during a tough economic time, and all the infrastructure across the country, but most of the New Democratic Party, which purports to stand up for rural Canada and for farmers, voted against abolishing the long gun registry.

In my riding, they are going to have to answer to that in the next election, and I think they will answer to that.

More importantly, the government is taking action in relation to farmers. We continually take action for farmers and we continually improve the transportation system, but we do it from a positive perspective. We try to get the parties to work together, to collaborate and get both sides of the argument, and then make a decision that will ultimately be in the best interest of Canadians, Canadian farmers and the Canadian economy, which is simply better for all of us.

6:25 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, on October 5, I asked the Minister of National Defence why he had cancelled Dr. Zijad Delic's speech at the department's event recognizing Islamic history month.

I also asked if the minister would be willing to apologize to Dr. Delic and to all Canadian Muslims for this exclusion of a thoughtful, moderate Canadian voice.

Unfortunately, we are still awaiting that apology. In fact, instead of apologizing, government members have compounded their error by questioning my motives for supporting Dr. Delic.

I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight regarding a moderate Muslim and proud Canadian, and to ask the government why it continues to favour the politics of division over the politics of engagement.

The minister's justification for cancelling Dr. Delic's speech was based on comments made by a former president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. Dr. Delic is not a president, he is the executive director. These former remarks were deplorable and unacceptable, and they have been completely disavowed by Dr. Delic. They happened six years ago and led to the president's resignation.

Dr. Delic is an articulate supporter of Canadian values and renewed multiculturalism. After his speech was cancelled, he released his planned remarks. Since he was silenced, I want to share some of his words here.

He called on Muslim Canadians to engage fully with Canadian society, by saying:

[A]ctive citizenship implies not only that citizens be engaged in taking ownership of their rights, but that they also embrace corresponding societal responsibilities that go beyond just holding a passport, or paying taxes. This level of engagement includes being part of civic decision-making processes, caring about our society's cohesion, and building its human, cultural and economic resources--building its social capital.

For me, this idea could not be more true. So why is this a sentiment that the Conservative government did not want to hear? I believe in a Canada where people of different faiths can freely share their ideas with one another. It is through open dialogue that we build bridges and foster compassion.

Silencing such a voice can only serve to divide Canadians. Dr. Delic recognizes this. He wrote in a letter after his speech was cancelled:

My hope and ambition is to contribute in a positive way to the family of Canadians to continue to make Canada a safe and free society. If voices of moderation are silenced, this will not be in the best interests of the security of Canada and its reputation as a country where people work together for common goals with diverse background. I thank Canada for the opportunity to be part of its diversity.

The Conservative government, the Department of National Defence and all Canadians could have learned a lot if the minister had not excluded Dr. Delic. We must continue to welcome moderate voices and hear what they have to say, regardless of their faith.

Why is this a sentiment that the Conservative government wanted to silence? Why are they afraid of engaging with citizens of all faiths and backgrounds? And when will the government seek to understand by listening to the diverse voices and all the opinions that make up Canada's multicultural mosaic?

6:25 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, since our government introduced this initiative in 2007, Islamic History Month has been celebrated in Canada in order to recognize the important contributions of Canadian Muslims to Canadian society, the cultural diversity of the Canadian Muslim community and, most important, to share the many beautiful aspects of Muslim culture among Canadians.

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces marked Islamic Heritage Month with a celebration held at national defence headquarters in Ottawa on Monday, October 4. This celebration included cultural dances and remarks by prominent members of the defence community.

Imam Delic, executive director of the Canadian Islamic Congress, was scheduled to address this celebration. However, a decision was taken by the Minister of National Defence to cancel any role by the Canadian Islamic Congress, based on extremist, hateful views promulgated by its members and past leader. The Canadian Islamic Congress declared that Israelis over the age of 18 were legitimate targets for suicide bombers. These types of comments do not support Islamic heritage. They simply divide Canadians and promulgate hate and they have no place in Islamic History Month celebrations.

Others in the Muslim community noticed. The decision by the Minister of National Defence was supported by Sohail Raza, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, who said the following about the Canadian Islamic Congress, I think organizations that speak out against Canadian values should not be invited to any forum”. He also said, “The Canadian Islamic Congress has publicly been anti-Semitic. This is not the kind of garbage we want in our Canadian way of life, so we welcome the stance of [the Minister of National Defence]”.

Robert Sibley, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, had the following to say on October 7:

There's no question the CIC has been inclined to what most Canadians would regard as extremist positions. In 2006, the organization urged the federal government to remove two notorious groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, from its terrorist list, arguing the government had succumbed to the “intense pressure from the pro-Israel lobby.” Also that same year, former president, Mohamed Elmasry, repeatedly said on a television talk show that Israelis over the age of 18 were fair game for killing.

Islamic History Month is intended to celebrate the positive contributions of Islam in our nation's communities. The celebrations at national defence focused on the evolution of Islam in the Canadian Forces and the positive contributions of Canada's Muslim community to our society. The two hour event included cultural dances, music and food tasting. It was an opportunity for approximately 40 civilian and military, Muslim and non-Muslim staff to get together to share and celebrate Islamic history.

I was there for part of it and it was indeed an excellent occasion. The event was organized by the Defence Visible Minorities Advisory Group, whose mandate is to promote diversity and inclusiveness. It takes a supportive role and applies its unique perspectives to the job of building, nurturing and retaining a talented and diverse Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces civilian and military workforce.

Diversity plays a pivotal role in ensuring that DND and the Canadian Forces remain strong, innovative and forward-looking institutions, reflective of Canada's cultural, ethnic and linguistic makeup. Working together, we will keep it that way.

6:30 p.m.


Rob Oliphant Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed by the answer. I am not totally surprised, but I am surprised that somehow we would equate cultural dances, music and food tasting with the kind of dialogue that I am talking about. Multiculturalism is way more than cultural dances, food tasting and music.

We are talking about engaging Muslims in real and thoughtful discussions about the future. I welcome the comments of the Muslim Canadian Congress as well as the Canadian Islamic Congress. They are divergent and different voices. All Muslims do not think the same way, nor do all Christians, nor to all Buddhists or Jews. That means we need engagement. We need to be part of a society that actually talks to each other, listens to each other and puts aside old notions of multiculturalism. We are beyond that. This is 2010. This country has almost a million Muslim people living in it. We have to have—

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

6:30 p.m.


Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague picked up on the music, dance and food, but he missed the fact that it also included remarks by prominent members of the defence community, a number of whom were Muslim. They brought of course their unique perspective as members of the Muslim community, as members of the Canadian Forces, as people who have made that commitment to Canada to work together with people of all faiths, which we all celebrate, each in their own way.

Together, the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence are a reflection of Canadian society and, as such, will continue to do great work for the Canadian Forces and for the Canadian people and will welcome people of all faiths to those organizations.

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 6:34 p.m.)