Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to the bill again.
At the outset, Bill C-27 remains largely unnecessary. It in no way addresses the multitude of better known, long-lasting and long-standing problems that persist on many first nations. The bill would create an unnecessary reporting mechanism that would rely on a form of communication that really would not reflect the way most people in these communities go about talking to each other or learn about their relationship.
Bill C-27 is overly punitive and amounts to a waste of valuable and much needed funds by duplicating efforts and increasing the bureaucratic burden on those first nations that do not already have self-governing regimes. It would set the course for costly legal battles and would ignore the advice of the Auditor General to reduce the reporting burden placed on first nations. It would add to that reporting burden at the same time the government handcuffs the participants by reducing the abilities and effectiveness of those bodies that assist with first nation governance.
Everyone in this place is aware of the failings of the Conservative government that claimed it would be more transparent and accountable than its predecessors. The Conservatives have learned that it is not as easy as it sounds, yet they are demanding what they cannot do themselves of our first nations.
In fact, the bill would impose standards greater than those applied to politicians in many other elected jurisdictions in a way that would create more bureaucracy without really increasing accountability of first nation governments to their communities.
The question that begs to be asked is this. Why is this being done now?
We might hear about a handful of overpaid band politicians. However, this is not the norm and any assumptions that are drawn from those stories are often based more on opinion than fact.
Also, if hearing about something is excuse enough to set the wheels of change in motion, I invite the government to recall how often we have heard about the challenges related to poverty, inadequate housing, substandard education opportunities, mental and physical health and so many more significant well-documented problems that persist in far too many first nation communities across Canada. I invite the government to find some resources to address some of those arguably more urgent issues.
I also invite the government to recall that only work done under the broader concept of full consultation is bound to succeed. If the government works in isolation, ignores its duty to consult, or only listens to the opinion of those who support its opinion, it will be spinning its wheels.
From the outset, we know that there is a problem because the intention of the bill is to duplicate something that already exists. Anyone watching Parliament today might be tempted to think that first nations report nothing about the funding they receive or on the salaries and compensation provided to their leadership when in fact the opposite is true.
First nations produce year-end reports that include annual audited consolidated financial statements for the public funds provided to them. These reports include salaries, honoraria and travel expenses for all elected, appointed and senior unelected band officials.
First nations are also required to release statements to their membership about compensation earned or accrued by elected, appointed and unelected senior officials and the amounts of remuneration paid, earned or accrued by elected and appointed officials, which must be from all sources within the recipient's financial reporting entity, including amounts from economic development and other types of business corporations.
Let us remember the June 2011 findings of the Auditor General which stated that despite repeated audits recommending numerous reforms over the last decade, the federal government had failed abysmally to address the worsening conditions for first nations.
That report tells us that the money just is not flowing to the problems and that it is not for lack of audits or reporting processes. The Auditor General pointed out that the reporting burden on first nations had actually worsened in recent years despite the fact of the office's repeated calls to reduce the reporting burden.
Worst of all, the findings showed how many of the reports were not even used by federal government departments and were not serving anything but bureaucratic processes. They are white elephants and the government is eagerly seeking to increase them.
In this respect, we have a government that is all about creating more burdensome red tape to go along with the handcuffs it is putting on first nations communities, communities that rely on the services of tribal councils, the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Centre for First Nations Governance to assist with many items related to governance.
Consider the way the government has attacked tribal councils on one hand and created a great deal of work that those councils are uniquely positioned to assist with at the same time. The cuts to funding in this area show that the government is not working from a coherent plan. There is no playing to strengths or even acknowledgement of interplay between variables. In fact, cuts to the tribal council funding program mute the significant assistance that tribal councils could provide bands that will be forced to comply with the technological bureaucracy the bill sets in play. That program funds tribal councils so they can provide advisory services to their member first nations and to administer other Indian and northern programs.
Let us remember that tribal councils are institutions established voluntarily by the bands. In 2006-07 the program funded 78 tribal councils that served 471 first nations for a hair less than $45 million. That is not an excessive amount of money for the work these councils do. It is nowhere near the amount the government flushes down the drain for self-congratulatory advertising.
Consider the work tribal councils do. Five advisory services have been devolved to tribal councils: economic development, financial management, community planning, technical services and band governance. It is only reasonable to expect these cuts will affect the output of many first nations. Certainly, the work tribal councils on advisory services dovetails with the demands that Bill C-27 places on first nations. Be it technical services, financial management or band governance, tribal councils had an important role to play in this process. However, the government saw fit to claw back those budgets ahead of this bill.
We understand there is not an infinite amount of resources. That is why the New Democrats would never make the kinds of cuts and demands that the government has and pretend that one does not affect the other.
It is no secret that many first nation communities are not as well off as most non-aboriginal places. We know that almost a third of first nation households struggle to get by on less than $20,000 a year. We know that number is growing, which is to say, it is not going in the right direction. This is a significant problem and the government's answer seems to be to pile on in terms of the amount of money a community now has to spend reporting on how it spend its money. It sounds absurd. That is because it kind of is.
Consider that first nations are already subject to various policy-based and legal requirements regarding the management and expenditure of federal public funds. If these new requirements did away with those, or streamlined them, it might make more sense. Instead, this is just the creation of more red tape for first nations.
The New Democrats remain convinced that changes to how audited statements are made public does not require heavy-handed legislation. Any changes deemed necessary could be a requirement of funding arrangements that the department would have each first nation government sign.
We are concerned that Bill C-27 not only ignores the simple solution, but is overly punitive as well. Bands that do not comply with the demands of the bill can have their funding withheld or have a funding agreement terminated by the minister. How will that improve education, housing or the infrastructure challenges that many of these communities face?
The New Democrats do not see the need to divert more money to a new level of bureaucracy to reproduce much of what has already been done in a new or novel format. We understand there can be problems associated with reporting on the website that are not apparent to anyone. As someone who represents a northern rural constituency, Internet connectivity is not always possible. In fact, it is enough of a challenge to get service to relatively accessible areas like Manitoulin Island, so we can see that website reporting could become a hurdle some bands might not easily jump over, especially those in more remote areas.