Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to join in this debate today.
I want to speak directly to the motions that were brought forward. First of all, the clause under debate is clause 11 of Bill C-27, first nations financial transparency act. This clause reads:
If a First Nation fails to publish any document under section 8, any person, including the Minister, may apply to a superior court for an order requiring the council to carry out the duties under that section within the period specified by the court.
The purpose of this clause in the bill is to ensure that anyone, including the minister, could ask a court to require a first nation to publish its consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration and expenses, if the first nation government failed to act in accordance with the provisions of Bill C-27. This clause is necessary, as it would provide an avenue of redress when a first nation fails to comply with the proposed act by failing to publish its financial documents.
As we all know, governments in Canada, whether they be the federal government, provincial governments or municipal governments, must adhere to legislation, which ensures that the financial statements of the government and its entities and the remuneration paid and expenses reimbursed to its elected leaders are shared with the public. There are different means of achieving this, but the end result is the same. The financial information relating to governments at every level in Canada are available to the general public; that is, governments with the exception of first nation governments operating under the Indian Act.
Bill C-27 would simply address this gap. In doing so, the bill would also address a situation that blurs the lines of accountability between first nation councils and their own members.
As we have heard, if a first nation member cannot access the financial information relating to his or her band, he or she can ask the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development to release the information. Each year, AANDC receives many such requests from first nation individuals looking for basic financial information relating to their community, which they should be able to access directly from their band. In addition to these informal requests for information, the department also receives formal complaints regarding the potential mismanagement or misappropriation of band funds and remuneration of officials.
Legislation that ensures this information is easily accessible to everyone would remove the minister from the equation in many of these cases, thereby promoting more direct lines of accountability of a first nation leader to its members. In short, the bill aims to shift the accountability bargain between first nation governments and their communities.
This is not to suggest that first nations are mismanaging their finances or are not accountable to their members. In fact, there are many examples of first nations that are not only meeting the basic expectations of a government but are exceeding them. Unfortunately, there remain many that are not, as these requests and complaints to the department demonstrate.
However, with the greater transparency that would be provided by the bill, many of these requests and complaints would likely not be necessary, as information would be publicly available. Furthermore, with the greater transparency around publication of remuneration and expenses, the speculation that currently exists on these issues would be removed, which would dispel the rumours around the salaries of first nation leaders.
All first nation leaders should be applauding this, as there are many whose reputations are unfairly tarnished by the actions or inactions of others.
Perhaps even more importantly, Bill C-27 would also mean that first nation individuals would no longer feel intimidated when they ask for financial information relating to their bands, and intimidation does indeed occur, as was described to the committee by representatives of the Peguis Accountability Coalition and others, just for challenging their governments about how their money is being spent or simply asking for copies of the band's financial statements.
Without clause 11 in the bill, first nation members who are unable access basic financial information relating to their own band would still need to challenge their chief and council for this information through the courts, creating a tense situation for many people. However, this is not the only reason why clause 11 of the bill is required.
An adequate enforcement mechanism would ensure that these documents are made available to all Canadians. Making sure this information is available to everyone would mean that all Canadians would see the reality of how first nations governments are funded.
During her appearance before the committee, Jody Wilson-Raybould of the AFN stated:
...having consolidated financial statements and disclosing revenue or investments does...actually recognize and expose the reality of what our first nations are having to bear in terms of supporting our own governments beyond the federal transfers....
Bill C-27 is a necessary piece of legislation. A key part of how this legislation would be successful is clause 11.
Bill C-27 would strengthen transparency and accountability by requiring that the audited consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration and expenses of the first nation be shared with the members of each first nation community, as well as the general public.
The clause under debate is clause 13 of Bill C-27, the first nations financial transparency act. This clause provides for administrative measures if a first nation fails to prepare and publish its consolidated financial statements, auditor reports and schedule of remuneration and expenses. In other words, this provision encourages first nations to comply with the act so as to avoid these measures being imposed.
Although we believe that all first nations governments will comply with this legislation, as it strengthens their accountability to their members, in the event of the refusal of a first nation's leadership to publish its audited consolidated financial statements, the first nations financial transparency act provides the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development three options.
The minister may require the council of the affected first nation to develop an appropriate action plan, ensuring the release of the financial information in a timely and organized fashion.
The minister may also withhold funding that would normally go to the first nation under active grant and contribution agreements. These withheld funds would be released immediately upon the publication of the first nation's audited consolidated financial statements.
Finally, the minister may completely terminate active grant and contribution agreements should a first nation refuse to provide AANDC with its audited consolidated financial statements.
There is nothing new here. First nations are already required to produce annual consolidated financial statements, which are audited by independent accredited professional auditors, and report the remuneration and expenses, in separate categories, paid to chiefs and councillors as part of their funding agreements with AANDC. Also, the measures being proposed in clause 13 of Bill C-27 are already available to the minister under the grants and contribution agreements.
As for clause 13(2), this clause provides that any monies the minister has withheld from a first nation for non-compliance of this act are considered a charge under the Financial Administration Act. This provision simply provides the mechanism by which funds withheld from a first nation can be paid to the first nation once compliance is achieved, even if the payment occurs in a subsequent year.
Section 37.1(1) of the Financial Administration Act states:
Subject to such directions as the Treasury Board may make, a debt incurred by Her Majesty for work performed, goods received or services rendered before the end of a fiscal year, and any amount due or owing under a contract, contribution or other similar arrangement entered into before the end of the fiscal year that remains unpaid at the end of the fiscal year, shall be recorded as a charge against the appropriation to which it relates.
Clause 13(2) of the bill is a technical administrative measure that allows for any funds that have been withheld under this act to be repaid, yet NDP Motion No. 3 proposes to remove all of these administrative measures. Without this clause, first nations individuals could continue to be subject to intimidation when they ask for financial information relating to their bands.
In conclusion, Bill C-27 is a necessary piece of legislation. A key part of how this legislation would be successful would be the provisions outlined in the clauses I have mentioned during this debate.