Mr. Speaker, Bill C-27 raises a number of issues, of course. As I mentioned in my earlier question, with this bill, the government took for granted many negative and disparaging opinions about first nations in this country. Right from the start, the Conservatives noted that there was a problem with the first nations, and they imposed the view that there was indeed a problem.
There are first nations communities in my riding. For example, there is the Kitigan Zibi reserve, where the chief and the band council make an enormous effort to be accountable and transparent with their members. In order to do so, they publish documentation on their financial statements and their accounts, they use the Internet and they reply to the many questions from their members and the band councillors at public assemblies.
Beginning by identifying a problem, without even doing any research, is inherently problematic. It seems to me that, if you are going to discuss a problem, there must first be evidence of a problem.
With this in mind, I am going to give the House some statistics. First of all, is there a problem with the salaries of chiefs and band councillors? The answer is no. The average annual salary of a chief is $60,000, while that of a councillor is $31,000. Furthermore, 50% of chiefs earn less than $60,000 per year, and only 5% of them earn more than $100,000 per year. So how can anyone talk about abuse?
In comparison, an elected member of Parliament is paid $160,000 per year. Only 5% of first nations officials earn more than $100,000 a year, while every one of the elected members in the House of Commons earns more than $100,000 per year. So where is the problem?
Of course, it all depends on how we see things. Is this a government in the process of negotiating with another government, a nation—whether Quebec or Canada—negotiating with another nation, or is this the daddy of Canada that is continuing with its fault-finding, paternalistic relationship with the first nations? I think that this is the attitude that is the real basis for Bill C-27.
Here are some other statistics: a recent regional survey on the health of first nations members showed that only 51% of first nations families had Internet access at home. Making it mandatory to publish information on a website or on the Internet does not make sense considering that the bill primarily concerns first nations members. The figure drops to 36% for families whose income is lower than $25,000.
In Nova Scotia, the public can consult summaries of ministers' expenditures, for example, at the parliamentary library. The government of the Northwest Territories publishes only ministers' travel-related expenditures. The various levels of government are in fact less accountable than the first nations are. It is a double standard. They are expected to be more accountable than we are.
It should be pointed out that the current Conservative government is probably the least transparent government in Canada's history, in terms of layoffs in the public service, in terms of its spending, in terms of the F-35s and a number of other things. The first nations cannot be asked to be more accountable than we are.
We are opposed to this bill primarily for one basic reason: there has been absolutely no consultation with the first nations on this bill. I myself have done my work and asked the first nations in my riding if they were consulted with regard to Bill C-27; the answer was a resounding no.
How can we expect to have a good relationship with the first nations in this country if we do not even make the effort to convene an assembly of first nations or even to have a telephone conversation with the band councils about Bill C-27?
There are a number of reasons why I am personally opposed to this bill. For instance, it imposes tougher standards than those imposed on the elected representatives in other levels of government. I have already mentioned this. There is also the minister's power to withhold the payment of any sum due to a first nation or to terminate any agreement respecting any grant or contribution payable to the first nation, in the event of failure to comply with any obligation. This is an excessively harsh penalty, especially when we know that many first nations depend on these transfers for their health and well-being. In some cases, these transfers are a matter of life and death. We absolutely must take an approach that is smarter than simply punishing first nations if they do not comply with this new bill.
We want to see the government working in co-operation with first nations on improving their governance. That is true. Instead, we have noted that the Conservatives have eliminated funding for institutions supporting governance, such as the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Centre for First Nations Governance. Once again, it is completely wrong, if not hypocritical, to expect supposedly better governance by the first nations while cutting budgets for institutions that support the development of governing institutions.
We also believe that changes to the way in which audited financial statements are presented to the first nations do not require legislation. Such changes can be included in the requirements for the funding agreements that the minister had each first nation sign. Understanding the context would allow for a more personal approach to negotiating and co-operating with each of the first nations involved.
I am also concerned, as my party is, that this bill overlaps and breaches other legislation, including the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act, both of which, let us remember, exist to protect Canadians.
The legislative summary provided by the Library of Parliament describes the legal requirements to which band councils are already subject. The Conservatives have not proven to us that these legal requirements are problematic: there has been no conversation and no facts have been presented. Why do these requirements cause a problem? I have come full circle in my speech: we have to identify and prove that there is a problem before we can find a solution to it.
I must say that my position—my party's position—is supported by a number of first nations groups. The Assembly of First Nations, for instance, has profound concerns about this bill.
The Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians issued a press release on November 24.
I am pleased, therefore, to rise in this House to oppose this bill together with the first nations in my riding.