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House of Commons Hansard #144 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, are the various communities going to support one another?

The Attikamekw live in my riding. Are the people from the hon. member's riding, for example, going to enter into agreements with other reserves to work together?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

There is a kind of unity among various communities. However, there are differences across Canada, including linguistic differences, that are problematic. I have looked into it. People in my community are able to understand the Cree, the Algonquin and the Attikamekw peoples. There are linguistic differences, but everyone shares a common understanding.

I think that older people are better able to understand each other. This has been observed in the past. After 25,000 years of territorial occupation, I think there have been contacts and exchanges. There are also economic, political and social interests that vary from one community to the next. There is a kind of unity right now, particularly between the Innu and the Naskapi. Looking at my community and neighbouring communities, that is what I see now.

Of course, there is the AFNQL and the national Assembly of First Nations, but people often express differing opinions. That is fine. We cannot expect to achieve consensus in every area and on every issue.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

June 20th, 2012 / 8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I stand to speak to what I believe is a very important bill. In fact, I thought what was most interesting was the title, an act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of first nations.

When I think of financial accountability and transparency, I must admit that one of the first things that comes to my mind is the Minister of International Cooperation. Members will recall the $16 cup of orange juice. I think it was orange juice from concentrate. Canadians were quite upset about that issue. Then we found out about the limousine services. This minister, after getting caught, seemed to admit that maybe she did do something wrong and would repay the taxpayer as a result. Therefore, it is with a little bit of irony that I approach the bill and I see across the way on a daily basis that particular minister who has incurred some fairly outrageous expenditures. I think the $16 glass of orange juice is one of them.

I say this because there is no doubt that there are issues with tax dollars being used in one form or another. With Bill C-27, we are talking about public tax dollars that go toward our first nation community in the sense of wanting more accountability and transparency. I do not question the importance of that. However, equally, it is important for us to highlight that, through different forms of sensationalism, an issue can be brought to the public's attention with fairly significant repercussions.

One of those repercussions, which I made reference to, was from the $16 glass of orange juice. That does not necessarily mean that every minister is out there buying a glass of orange juice at $16, at least I suspect not. I have not asked through freedom of information or with an order paper question, but I am going to assume that the vast majority of cabinet ministers are not ordering $16 cups of orange juice and then billing the taxpayer.

However, with Bill C-27, the government is trying to paint with a very wide brush many individuals, leaderships and others within our first nations. The government is trying to give the message as if the whole group of them are in need of some sense of being held accountable and ensuring there is more transparency.

The reality is quite different. We find that in many cases our first nations have a higher sense of accountability than we would find in the government. First nations do that in good part by their own will by using the Internet and the public meetings that they have on the reserves as an example.

This is where we really need to be concerned. It is the approach in which the government tries to address issues of this nature that has to cause a great deal of concern. The government does have a choice: working with our aboriginal community, or trying to force things onto our aboriginal community. If it does the latter, one would expect the stakeholders to be quite offended, and justifiably so.

To what degree has the Conservative government made any genuine attempt to sit down with the stakeholders before even presenting this piece of legislation?

I challenge the government members to stand in their place and tell us exactly what form of consultation they had with the stakeholders on this particular issue before drafting the legislation and bringing it into the House of Commons.

I would argue that is the difference, in essence, between the Liberal Party and the Conservative/Reform Party: there is a great deal more respect toward our first nations, toward our aboriginal people, coming from the Liberal Party than we will see from the Conservative Party.

We look for the type of actions the government takes in order to be able to show it is taking an issue seriously. The best example, an example that I think speaks volumes and one of the most significant actions that has been taken in the last 10, 15, 20 years was when Paul Martin was the Prime Minister and he was able to bring the stakeholders together. The stakeholders came together and came up with what was known as the Kelowna accord. The Kelowna accord addressed a wide variety of issues. What I like the most about the Kelowna accord is that it was an accord that was achieved by working with the different stakeholders. That is what made the Kelowna accord an agreement that was worthy of the support of the House of Commons.

Imagine the disappointment back in 2006, when the Conservatives ultimately got rid of the Kelowna accord. It is one of the sad stories of the House of Commons, when the New Democrats and the Conservatives voted against the Paul Martin government and ultimately ended a lot of progressive ideas and actions that were being taken at that time.

There are many of us who will not forget that. Whether it was child care, health care reforms that ensured more health care dollars going into the system, or the Kelowna accord, we valued these programs and felt they were worthy of support. We were quite disappointed when the government, in its wisdom, made the decision to get rid of the Kelowna accord, at a great cost.

Last year we had the incident out in Attawapiskat, which garnered a great deal of attention nationwide. The types of issues that were being discussed in the media, in the one-on-one discussions with those individuals who went to the reserve, and in many discussions having taken place here in Ottawa, were in fact a part of the Kelowna accord.

The Kelowna accord was not just an agreement; it was an agreement that brought in cash resources and good will, not only from the Government of Canada but from the other stakeholders. It had in place, within that accord, issues dealing with accountability. It included a mutual accountability framework, which would have addressed many of the issues this bill is trying to deal with.

Upon reflection, I look at this issue and recognize it as a very important issue. I can recall a former colleague of mine from the Manitoba legislature who came to Ottawa and ultimately became head of the Treasury Board, Reg Alcock. Reg had a very strong passion for the aboriginal people and believed we needed to do more.

I made reference to Paul Martin and his efforts. We could talk about the interim leader. When the interim leader was the premier of Ontario and there were concerns related to water, our current interim leader made the decision that this is an issue that has to be dealt with. He was not prepared to wait for Ottawa to try to resolve it. He felt this was something we needed to get directly involved in, even though many would argue it was a federal responsibility.

We need to recognize that, in order to deal with the many different aboriginal issues, there needs to be a high sense of co-operation from all of the different stakeholders. We need to recognize that the tribal chiefs and councils have an important role to play in this and that it cannot work without their support going forward. In fact, they need to provide, and have provided in many ways, the leadership on the issue. We need to recognize that it goes beyond that in the sense that the federal government needs to treat the issue and the leadership from within the first nations community more seriously, provide more respect and start working with people on how we can facilitate what needs to get done in order to improve opportunities for all people.

If the stakeholders do not get directly involved, the chances of success are greatly diminished. When that is diminished, we are really saying that we are prepared to sacrifice the lives of many children. That is why the Liberal Party looks at this issue and says that we are losing time by not being more aggressive on this file. We need the Reg Alcocks, the Paul Martins, the Phil Fontaines and the many other leaders from within the first nations community to feel that there is a high sense of willingness to move forward on these important issues, to get engaged, to start talking about it and to have the dialogue.

The bill itself is all about financial accountability. What is the message the government is trying to convey to Canadians, in particular first nations, about how it feels on this particular issue? Given its lack of consultation and willingness to work with the first nations leadership, I am drawn to the conclusion that it wants to send a political message that is of a very negative nature, which causes a great deal of concern.

Members should be very much aware, as I cited earlier, that a $16 glass of orange juice got a fair number of Canadians upset. If every minister were as abusive in terms of buying orange juice, I believe the public would be exceptionally upset with the government. That is the reason that I believe the message it is trying to send is that of a negative nature. It is saying that there is not enough transparency and accountability on reserves and that is the reason it is bringing forward this legislation. Then, no doubt, the government provides stories in the background about why it is justified.

There were alternatives. The primary alternative would have been to work with the stakeholders to see how this legislation could have been brought in with the support of all members of the House of Commons.

I ask members to imagine that the Conservatives had the support of the NDP and the Liberals on Bill C-27 and that they were able to garner that support because they went to the stakeholders with their primary concern being the children living on and off our reserves.

A vast majority of the first nations leadership want accountability. They are not fearful of accountability or transparency. I know my constituents want accountability and transparency but that applies to the government and what the government is doing, such as the $16 orange juice. They want the Government of Canada to be accountable. They want accountability at the provincial level and the city level. They want accountability of all tax dollars that are being spent. They want to ensure there is transparency.

I can assure members of the House that there is a willingness, even, I suspect, from some of the backbench Conservatives, to see more transparency within the federal government. If there were a free or maybe a secret ballot vote we might see some of them saying yes to it.

I can assure members there are many individuals who are part of the stakeholders I am referring to who support accountability and transparency. I believe they would not object to a bill that affirms those beliefs but it should have been done in co-operation. Instead, we have a bill that has been brought forward to score some political points. I do not agree with the political points they are attempting to score here, but I believe that is the reason they are bringing the bill forward.

What will happen as a direct result? The legislation does have some serious problems with it. Our critic for aboriginal affairs is a lady who has been exceptionally passionate about a wide variety of aboriginal issues and has consistently been there and listened to what individuals on or off reserve have had to say about it. She has consistently, on behalf of the Liberal Party, raised issues that are impacting our first nations to the floor of the House of Commons. These are the types of issues we have been raising. Bill C-27 is no different. Nothing will change. We will bring forward amendments to try to make the bill more sellable and more fair.

Some of it is almost a no-brainer. For example, why would we obligate a business that is on a reserve to open its books when it might be competing with other businesses outside the reserve, or even if it is a business that is located outside. The point is that there are many issues within the bill that need to be addressed.

At the end of the day, we are hoping that the government will be open to amendments. Ideally, from the Liberal Party's perspective, how wonderful it would be if the committee itself actually made the decision to go out to a reserve and listen to a reserve first-hand on the bill. Why not identify half a dozen reserves, sit down as a committee and listen to what the reserves have to say about the bill, if a bill of whatever nature is something that would be acceptable? It would be a bold move by the government but I would suggest--

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Scarborough--Guildwood.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether the hon. member recognized and took note of the supreme irony of introducing a bill on the very day that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has to sue the government in order to get basic information on which all of us rely in order to make informed decisions in this place. Is it not hugely ironic that a bill that is designed for transparency and accountability for some people does not apply to the government?

We have the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, created and given a mandate by the Conservative government in the first bill that it came in on, and when the Parliamentary Budget Officer asks for basic information from 80-some departments and agencies, which is their spending plans going forward, more than 70 of them just blow him off on the instructions of the Prime Minister. It appears that there is accountability for some but not for the Conservative government. How ironic is that?

I just wonder whether the hon. member would consider moving an amendment and that the amendment might be that the accountability in this bill be paralleled by accountability by the Government of Canada, and that we have the same transparency in the Government of Canada that is expected in this bill.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague was talking about the issue, the word that popped into my mind was “hypocrisy”. That might be an applicable term in the particular situation as he described, which I thought was a fair assessment. When we have the Parliamentary Budget Officer asking for more transparency and accountability and the government saying no, there are some problems with consistency.

There are many examples we could use but I will use the $16 orange juice example, which is a relatively inexpensive one. However, we could go to the other extreme. How many of us are familiar with the F-35? We are talking about billions of dollars in this case and the government does not provide any information that is credible or legitimate to the public. We still do not know how much or how many F-35s we are talking about. Those are basic questions and yet the government has failed to be accountable on that issue and has failed to be transparent in terms of what has been done on that particular file where we are talking about billions of dollars.

I think there is a lot room for improvement with this bill, especially if the government wants to be consistent in what it would oblige our first nations to do.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's speech has brought to my mind the discussion that took place in 2004-2005 that ultimately led to the historic Kelowna accord with aboriginal people in this country. It involved 18 months of detailed consultations with five national aboriginal organizations, 30 different departments of the federal government, 10 provinces and three territories. It was a very successful and cordial effort at bringing people together to find common solutions.

Kelowna touched upon housing, water, education, health, economic development and, most critically apropos the subject tonight, it talked about governance, accountability and transparency. Work plans were put together in all of these areas for the Government of Canada, the provinces, the territories and aboriginal organizations to move forward together, and those work plans were fully funded.

The point is that under the area of governance, accountability and transparency, the idea had emerged from the former chief of the Assembly of First Nations for a first nations auditor general to pursue this notion of accountability, transparency and good governance in terms of the operations of all first nations across the country.

I wonder what the hon. member thinks of the idea of a first nations auditor general, who would be trained and developed by the Auditor General of Canada. What about that idea to improve the transparency among first nations in this country?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the question illustrates something I was attempting to emphasize earlier, the fact that many different leaders within the first nations and aboriginal communities have fantastic ideas that would really make a difference. The idea of a first nations auditor general came from that leadership and was supported by the Liberal Party of Canada. That idea would be of great benefit, and I understand that is going to be one of the amendments. That is why I say the government needs to have an open mind on this issue. Such an amendment would really make a positive difference.

With regard to the Kelowna accord, I cannot help but think about how massive a project it was to bring all the stakeholders together to develop that plan. The Paul Martin government ultimately pulled it all together. I am sure it saddens many individuals, even many of my colleagues, to see that plan flushed down the toilet by an insensitive, uncaring Conservative government that did not see the value of working with our first nations people and aboriginal leadership, because we would have answers to many of today's problems if the Kelowna accord was still with us.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Liberal Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member touched on the theme that a failure to lead by example is a failure to lead. He touched on several instances of the government failing to lead by example and, therefore, failing to lead. For example, he touched on the notion that while the Conservatives espouse accountability for others, they seldom impose accountability on themselves. Several instances were mentioned, but I would like to point out some others.

For example, the Prime Minister's Office itself refuses to divulge key pieces of information on decision-making. In fact, the chief of staff to the Prime Minister has to exempt himself, and we are not really sure exactly what he is exempt from and what he is allowed to participate in, because of a very convoluted tree—well, a shrub—of conflict that exists within the Prime Minister's Office.

I would ask the hon. member this: does he feel as though the government is leading by example or not leading at all?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Winnipeg North.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I believe the government is very lacking in the area of leadership on the whole aboriginal file and that the member is right in his assertion that government does need to give more attention to the file.

I cite Attawapiskat as an example. When it came to the floor of the House as an issue, the leader of the Liberal Party or the Liberal Party critic went out to check it out first-hand and to meet with individuals. Where was the government?

There could be other issues around it and so forth, but what I believe Canadians want to see, generally speaking, is a government that cares. I do not believe the government has been successful in demonstrating that it genuinely cares about the aboriginal community by taking the actions necessary to—

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I was reading through the legislative summary for Bill C-27, an act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of first nations. I want to thank Tonina Simeone and Shauna Troniak at the political affairs division for doing this superb legislative summary. Sometimes we do not give enough credit to our people at the Library of Parliament, and they deserve it.

For the sake of a bit of history, let us take a look at the legislative summary and its discussion of this particular piece of legislation. At one point it states:

First nations bands are subject to certain financial disclosure requirements under the Indian Act and related statutes and regulations. In particular, section 69 of the Indian Act provides that the Governor in Council may, by order, permit a First Nations band to “control, manage, and expend” its revenue, and may issue regulations giving effect to that permission. Accordingly, the Indian Bands Revenue Moneys Regulations require, in part, that a band's financial statements be audited annually, and that the auditor's report be posted “in conspicuous places on the Band Reserve for examination by members of the Band”.

The preface here from some of the debate seems to be that there is not enough accountability, or practically no accountability, when it comes to this, but as the legislative summary points out, there is a degree of transparency here that we must acknowledge before we advance into this debate.

It also talks about federal access to information and privacy legislation setting additional statutory rules respecting disclosure of first nations bands financial information. I mention two sections in particular, section 19 of the Access to Information Act and paragraph 20(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act.

With respect to the current policy-based requirements, the summary states:

The majority of funding arrangements between Canada and First Nations are in the form of fixed-term contribution agreements, under which First Nations must satisfy certain conditions to ensure the continued payment of federal funds. Requirements for financial reporting are also set out in AANDC’s Year-end Financial Reporting Handbook.

Once again we see a layer of transparency involved here that must be acknowledged before we advance into this debate.

I will now talk about some of the criticisms that I have with this bill and how the bill can be fixed.

In the spirit of things, let us face it, we all want transparency in the House. This is sometimes followed, and as my hon. colleague from Winnipeg North pointed out, sometimes it is not, or at least it is talked about but is just not followed to the letter of the law.

The summary continues:

Under the Year-End Financial Reporting Handbook, First Nations must submit to AANDC annual audited consolidated financial statements for the public funds provided to them. These include salaries, honoraria and travel expenses for all elected, appointed and senior unelected band officials. The latter includes unelected positions such as those of executive director, band manager, senior program director and manager. First Nations are also required to release these statements to their membership. In particular,

section 6.4.1 requires First Nations to disclose, both to their members and to AANDC, compensation earned or accrued by elected, appointed and unelected senior officials; and

section 6.4.2 stipulates that the amounts of remuneration paid, earned or accrued by elected and appointed officials to be disclosed “must be from all sources within the recipient’s financial reporting entity including amounts from, but not limited to, economic development and other types of business corporations”

The summary continues:

Reporting and disclosure requirements are further set out in various provisions of First Nations funding agreements, which must be read in conjunction with the Year-End Financial Reporting Handbook.

It states:

Section 2.4.3 provides that Council must prepare consolidated financial statements, to be audited by an independent auditor, and delivered to the Minister within 120 days of the Council’s fiscal year end.

Section 3.1 provides that Council must make available the consolidated audited financial statements, including the auditor’s report, to First Nations members upon their request.

Section 2.2.3 provides that the Minister may withhold funds otherwise payable under the agreement if the Council fails to provide to the Minister the audited financial statements required under the agreement.

Once again, there we find a situation where there is a layer of transparency that does exist, perhaps, in many cases—a level of transparency that the government can aspire to in certain instances, as the member for Winnipeg North

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Dream on.

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8:45 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Dream on I shall, as we all do. If there were not a certain degree of dreamers, then we would not be here.

The summary continues:

In 2008, AANDC advised funding recipients that, effective 1 July 2008, funding arrangements would be amended to include audit clauses.

It goes on to say:

When a First Nation community is unable to meet the terms and conditions set out in funding agreements, AANDC may intervene to address this deficiency

Therein lies some power for the department for this situation.

I have some more background information regarding Bill C-27.

While First Nations receive funding from several federal organizations, the majority of federal funding is administered by AANDC. In 2011–2012, Parliament approved approximately $7.4 billion in appropriations to AANDC to support the provision of such services to First Nations communities as education, housing, social support and community infrastructure.

This certainly was the focal point of a debate that took place in the House, given the situation in Attawapiskat. The situation and argument were degraded to the point where there were many false claims. Many people were using it for political purposes from all corners of the House, and some of it was just blatantly false. That is the unfortunate part of it, because if we get into that part of debate within the House, then we lose sight of coming up with the best solution.

First Nations and the federal government are both subject to various policy-based and legal requirements....

Through decisions of the band council, management of council affairs, delivery of programs and services, and disclosure of annual financial statements, First Nations generally are accountable to their community membership for the use of public resources.

Again, this is from the legislative summary put out by the Library of Parliament.

Through various federal reporting requirements, First Nations are also accountable to AANDC for the federal public funds they receive.

In turn, through the annual audit cycle and program reports, AANDC is answerable to Parliament and the Canadian public.

We get ourselves into this situation. When we had a private member's bill the last time, the principles that surrounded the bill were certainly those accountability and transparency. Therefore, in principle, of course we support that.

Whether the government is practising what it preached many years ago, such as the Federal Accountability Act, remains to be seen. We will leave that to the electorate to decide.

However, in that debate on the private member's legislation, falsehoods were put out there that there was a degree of unaccountability that really did not exist. In other words, the impression was given to us that there was no accountability whatsoever. That is not the case.

If we are going to enact legislation here, Bill C-27 would go further than what that private member's legislation was about to do, to the point that it would put many bands and their money, in the sense of the corporations, in a bad place. It would put them at a disadvantage in many cases.

What is dispersed to the public could be used against them, but not in a political way, such as by calling a talk show or downgrading a particular community.

However, let us say that a band wants to invest. It is incorporated and it pays salaries. It invests in its people and in infrastructure to help develop its young people to become entrepreneurs, or lawyers, or doctors, all surrounded by an idea within a band that it will invest in something for its future. There are business plans, audited reports.

However, if all that is dispersed to the public, even members of the government have to admit that it would put first nations at a disadvantage. Therefore, without particular amendments, the legislation would become something that could be used against their future ability to improve their communities and their bands, to improve and educate their young, to be a part of global commerce and to identify themselves as world players on the stage, and they certainly can be.

Let us take a look at the communities in northern Quebec that protested against major hydro projects. They went down the Hudson River to make their point, and they made a very good point. Since then, protests have been followed by action, action followed by investment and investment followed by smart, educated young people in aboriginal communities. The average age is very low in aboriginal communities, to the point where we have lots of young people who would benefit greatly from the investments of some of these band communities.

The proposed legislation's desire to be more accountable and transparent is wonderful. It is what every organization, whether government, NGOs, or business corporations should aspire to. These great ideals of what we consider to be transparent are what any company should aspire to so that others are not held at a disadvantage. However, with Bill C-27, let us be careful with what it would do.

If we go after the ideal of transparency, we may overreach to the point where it becomes a disadvantage and would work against the future plans of a band or community that wanted to better itself and invest in its social structures, not just business investments, but in the infrastructure of the community.

We are sent here to do the mature, decent examination and analysis of policy within the House. Following the House, the bill would go to committee where it would face more scrutiny, and that is where the amendments would come into play. We hope in this situation, despite the fact that there is a majority government, the Conservatives will practice what they used to preach and do this in a reasonable way.

There are certain elements of governance that the Conservative government feels should not be as transparent, whether that is for national security or in certain interests of our nation. In many cases I agree, but in many cases I do not. We agree that there are certain amounts of information that should not be disclosed to the public. Therefore, would the Conservatives not agree that amendments should be considered honestly and openly to attain the best legislation?

We can have the best legislation that would do two things. First, and most important, it would provide that transparency, which, in principle, I support. Second, with amendments, it would create responsible legislation so communities would be able to invest in their future and their children.

There are many aspects of the bill that we could speak about that go beyond what was debated in the last session of the House on the private member's legislation. A private member's bill usually does not go in-depth like government legislation does. When there is a full department behind it, that makes the legislation larger. However, Bill C-27 overreaches in many areas.

Let us take a look at the consultation process, which is also involved in this situation, and another problem that the government has put forward. This is not just about legislation from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. I will use Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the copyright legislation as examples to illustrate my point about consultation.

When consultation is done, it has to be done both ways. It goes there and it comes back. The message is there and the message has to come back. In many situations that message did not come back from the base degrees by which we set legislation.

Therefore, what the consultation process brought forward was not one that I would consider to be beneficial to the debate within the House. Despite what the Prime Minister has said about recent Crown-First Nations Gathering resetting the relationship, the Conservative government has shown a total disregard for the rights of indigenous people.

The Supreme Court of Canada established that both federal and provincial governments had a duty to consult aboriginal people before making decisions that might adversely affect their aboriginal rights and, in some circumstances, accommodate aboriginal people's concerns.

Further, let us not forget what the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada signed, obliges Canada to obtain “free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples” for matters affecting rights, territories and resources.

Let us go back to the resources aspect again. Coming from Newfoundland and Labrador, I can honestly say an investment in a resource certainly provides employment and more money in the coffers for provincial governments and therefore a better ability and more capacity to deliver social assistance programs when needed, as well as health care spending and education spending, the primary spending goals.

Looking at this in a particular way, we can see that the consultation process, when it comes to the resources aspect, did not bear fruit in the sense that if a particular band or community, or in other situations a province, invests in these resources, it has to be able to partake in the world of global commerce. As members know, when investing in larger resources, the world is where the market is. It is no smaller than that. Whether it is minerals or gas and oil, the world is certainly the ballpark we play in when it comes to investing in our resources.

This legislation will put some of these investments at a disadvantage because some of this information has to be dispersed to the public.

The expenditures and the direct subsidies into particular communities is a principle which we can agree on, but in this situation the government needs to take a second look at some of the changes that are necessary within this bill.

The Conservative government is imposing major changes to first nations financial reporting requirements, with no significant prior consultation with those who will have to implement these changes. Again, we go back to the idea of the consultation process. Certainly, we do not live up to that standard.

Let me repeat what is said in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, “free, prior and informed consent”. That does not mean they have to put out a press release to say what they are doing. It means consent, meaning that there is a two-way flow of information, communication. I think it went one way, but the way it came back was not satisfactory to this debate. It is certainly not germane to this debate.

We have seen the same flawed approach on drinking water and matrimonial real property, with no discussions on the specifics of the bills with stakeholders before that legislation was tabled.

When the Prime Minister announced major changes to our pensions, he did so to a foreign audience. It was never discussed in the campaign itself. There was no consultation process.

On the existing reporting burden, Bill C-27 would do nothing to streamline the current overwhelming reporting burden, especially for small first nations with limited administrative capacity.

Coming from a riding that has over 200 small communities, the burden for administrative purposes weighs heavy. For those who live in a town of only 20 or 30 people and who are required to do report after report, it gets tiring after a while. I am not saying they should not do it, but at least the government could provide the capacity to help these people fill out these reports in a timely manner, in a way that is efficient and accurate.

In her 2002 report, the Auditor General recommended that, “The federal government should consult with First Nations to review reporting requirements on a regular basis”. That is sadly not within this legislation.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet NDP La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague a question.

We are talking about transparency, but above all, about good governance. At least I hope the government's intention was to improve governance. We know that the Conservatives eliminated the funding allocated to several institutions that had been helping first nations improve their governance. Two examples are the First Nations Statistical Institute and the National Centre for First Nations Governance. Perhaps the government now realizes that it made a serious mistake by eliminating funding to these institutions, and now it is trying to fix those mistakes. On the other hand, I have a feeling that what the government really wants is simply to control everyone and everything around it.

I wonder if my colleague could comment on the elimination of funding to first nations groups.

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9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague brought up a point I did not get to in my speech. I am glad she did. I almost feel like she read my speech beforehand.

I want to talk about the statistical aspect. It is a good illustration of what I talked about earlier in my speech, the lack of information and the two-way flow of communication. Again, I go back to that UN declaration which called for informed opinion, decisions made for first nations that are informed. “Informed” and “consent” require two-way communication. If we cancel programs, such as the statistics that are gathered and acquired for fundamental decision making, then we are not that informed.

For example, we go to a foreign body, such as the United Nations Assembly, we sign agreements, then we come back and cancel the statistics program that gives us all that vital information on which we are basing these decisions. Ergo, we could go somewhere else, preach, come back and practise something entirely different.

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9:05 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to pick up on the point the hon. member was making that a lot of these smaller nations, aboriginal groups, have a limited capacity to fill yet again another report. We hear this not only from aboriginal communities, but also from NGOs. Even among NGOs, there is layer after layer of reporting, even when applying for a simple grant, to the point where they simply give up and walk away.

People would be interested to know that 60,000 reports are already being filed. I do not know how many reports we need after 60,000 reports. If we add yet another layer, and we are already going under water with the limitation of our capacity to file the original 60,000 reports, how effective would the so-called bill on transparency and accountability be?

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9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has a valid point. I remember dealing with an organization in my riding. One of the gentlemen there called it “regulation creep”. Basically, he was tired of being regulated to the point where he was constantly filling out these forms that in many cases he felt he has done before. Sixty thousand reports is an illustration of just what kind of a burden is being put on these smaller communities. The administrative capacity for many of these places just cannot keep up.

However, let us look at the example of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. The government recently cut core funding to regional economic development boards. Our opinion of the boards may vary, but their function was a good one. Full-time employees on the boards used to help out smaller communities with administrative capacity. They would help them file applications or audit reports, and help them fill out activities reports that were required of them.

That is certainly what is needed here. Imagine the extra amount of capacity that is needed just to provide the information required of the smallest bands and communities with the passage of this bill. It is a situation where I suspect that they would be forced into doing something because the outcry is just way too much. The reason why there is an outcry is because the people who are complaining about it are saying that, had they come to them before the legislation was introduced, they might have been able to do something about it or had an answer.

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9:10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask my hon. colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor a question. Earlier today I put the question about the existing level of commitment by first nations to transparency and accountability to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. He directed me to a resolution. However, it was the very resolution the minister mentioned that I was basing my question on, which is Resolution No. 50/2010 of December 2010, endorsed at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly. The Assembly of First Nations special chiefs themselves are fully committed to transparency and accountability in their financial reporting.

This piece of legislation is described by first nations chiefs as heavy-handed, paternalistic, and some of the commentary has described it as racist. They are asking why Ottawa is imposing this law at this time instead of working with first nations.

My hon. friend is right that we have an obligation in law to work with first nations through consultation and not through the imposition of top-down rule making. I would like his view on why first nations chiefs are caught by surprise by this legislation, when they themselves have already made a commitment to transparency and accountability in their financial dealings.

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9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague for Saanich—Gulf Islands brought up that which is germane to this debate, the preaching of one thing and the practising of another.

By way of illustration, my colleague who sits in front of me here from (Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte and I voted in the last session of Parliament. There was a minority. The majority of the House voted to reject the idea of signing onto a NAFO agreement, the international body that governs fisheries in the Northwest Atlantic. The majority of this House said no by way of votes. The very next day the Conservative government signed on to it. Prior to that, in the campaign, the Conservatives said that they would bring international agreements to the House. What was the point of that? The very next day they turned around and did the exact opposite of what they said they would do. At what point have they practised what they used to preach?

Going back to my friend's illustration, she brings up the point of the UN declaration. Every indicator in the language within this declaration said that transparency would be there and, certainly when it comes to communication, informed opinion. We get the statistics. It is a cut. We also get the level of transparency that they talk about here going way beyond—to use the term, they have been gobsmacked in this particular situation because they were absolutely surprised because they went counter to what they said.

Here is another illustration. The government stood up in the middle of the Alps of Switzerland and said that it may want to change the age of eligibility for old age security. It was said in a way that led people to believe that it was already known. I do not remember the Conservatives ever talking about that in the campaign. I remember hearing about the extra money they wanted to put in the guaranteed income supplement that was only one-third of the way to alleviating poverty.

Let us go back to that declaration once again. The indicators were definitely there. It was preached about. Back home it was practised in the opposite direction.

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9:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again on this issue. Today I want to say that aside from the absolutely appalling example the government set in not giving the Parliamentary Budget Officer the information he requires, there was another way. The First Nations Governance Institute was helping nation after nation, hundreds of nations that have come, as it says on its website, to restore their nations. It is helping first nations bottom up that is going to be the only way forward.

As Nellie Cournoyea said in 1975 in the Status of Women document entitled “Speaking Together”, “Paternalism has been a total disaster”. It is just not right that instead of helping first nations help themselves with institutions like the First Nations Governance Institute, the minister has chosen to cut all of the funding to that amazing organization that was doing all the work, building capacity first nation by first nation. Instead, he has decided to impose this thoughtless bill with untoward consequences in the House based on, as we all know, a Canadian Taxpayers Federation report that was then thought to be a good idea for a private member's bill to feed its base and continue this idea of shame and blame as opposed to truly building capacity bottom up by allowing first nations to help themselves.

We know what happens in these communities. The fact is that the government yet again has not thought it through. It never thinks it through. It has no experience on the ground with what life is really like in practically anything, from the health minister refusing to visit any community during H1N1 to now imposing this bill without really understanding what first nations are about.

Most first nations in this country consist of about 500 people. About half of those people are under 25 years of age. In those first nations there is some natural leadership. Those natural leaders become chiefs and council members, but they also sometimes become the people who run the small businesses, get a little entrepreneurial spirit and get the snow removal contract or are able to start a business. This bill would mean, as it says, “each of its councillors, acting in their capacity as such and in any other capacity, including their personal capacity”.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if you were a member of the council, would you want to start and own a business that then other businesses could prey upon the details of your business plan and how much you pay certain people in your business? Why would anybody who is running a business on a reserve, who is setting an example for his or her community and is the head of an organization, want to run for the council or chief if it then meant that his or her business could be devastated by predatory practices of non-aboriginal companies coming on to the reserve to do the kind of work that was being properly done by first nations entrepreneurs?

This fun and games with numbers stuff is unbelievably sad, from the Prime Minister blaming Attawapiskat and throwing the number of $80 million around when we know that the investment in the education system of $7,000 per student per year is $3,000, $4,000 or $5,000 less than children off reserve. It sounds over five years like a lot of money, but it is not enough money. Then the government's friends in the Fraser Institute compare Attawapiskat with Atikokan, saying the budgets are the same and they are about the same size. They ask why one community is doing well and the other community is doing terribly, purposely leaving out the fact that in Atikokan the health and education budgets are paid for by the province of Ontario, whereas in Attawapiskat those budgets come out of the community's budget.

I am a bit fed up with this in terms of how again first nations get blamed, how again legislation like this just builds on the stereotype and does not actually listen. One of my big heroes in life, Jane Jacobs, used to say that good policy comes when the decision makers can see in their mind's eye the people affected. We actually have to listen to the people on the ground wherever we have been across this country. Even the most successful first nations are saying this bill goes too far. It is not something they can live with in its present form because, again, it would actually undermine their ability to be successful and have sound economic development.

Today is a day when we are all a bit irritated. Who do these Conservatives think they are, that the Parliamentary Budget Officer has to go to court to get information from them, while they are presently trying to legislate this kind of undermining of economic development and success for first nations?

My hero, Ursula Franklin, has always said about good governance that it must be fair, must be transparent and must take people seriously. On most of the first nations that I have visited, that is the way they operate. The chief and council would not dream of going forward on any project of any magnitude without having their community with them. I hear Chief Robert Louie at Westbank say that when they have had difficult decisions to make, sometimes there are four community meetings in a month to be able to have the community with them as they go.

The minister had the audacity to announce this bill on the Whitecap Dakota Nation and Chief Darcy Bear has to bring his amendments to our committee to say the Conservatives had not thought it through. Even though the minister accepted the hospitality of the Whitecap Dakota, the government has not had the decency to make a commitment to fix this bill in the way that Chief Darcy Bear has asked.

I am saying it is about dignity, respect and free, prior and informed consent that the government signed onto with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is about stopping the paternalism. As we look at the great work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and as we look at its recommendations about aboriginal education for non-aboriginals, I am concerned that this kind of simplistic approach does nothing but interfere with that kind of relationship and mutual understanding that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is trying to do.

We know that an apology from a Prime Minister means absolutely nothing if Canadians do not know the history and do not know what the apology was about. On a daily basis, I am now saying this about that Prime Minister's apology in this House: Who would have known it would have not only been for the past but would have been for the future, with the kind of underfunding and disrespect the first nations are having to put up with in this country?

The first nations want to lead now, and they are leading in all kinds of ways: their approach to governance, which is asking not telling, making sure the community is with them as they go; their leadership in fleeing the medical modelling and helping the rest of us as physicians, nurses and health care providers to understand the importance of the medicine wheel in keeping everybody well, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We have to allow first nations in this country, and Inuit and Métis as well, to lead in terms of the things that the colonizers have made terribly wrong.

When we think of the pedagogy of first nations, which is learning by doing, that is the only way we as adults or we in our schools can go forward.

We need to listen to first nations, who say that children are not little empty vessels to have information poured into the top of and sit in tidy rows. Learning by doing is something first nations have taught us.

First nations call their senior citizens elders, while we in the south and in non-aboriginal communities call them elderly. The first nations knew about sustainability of natural resources. They knew we cannot clear cut, we cannot fish out the stock and we actually have to be sustainable.

The beautiful ceremony of the Prime Minister reversing that wampum belt was supposed to be a reset of the relationship. Instead we get a raining down of legislation telling first nations what to do and how to do it. We have a water act that has only “thou shalt” and no resources attached to it. I wrote to the minister last August to say that we as Liberals would not in any way be able to support a bill about water that did not include the resources to go with it.

It has been an extraordinarily frustrating time as we are trying to turn the page, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is trying to do its work and as the government cuts so many institutions that are really important to first nations. Where is the first nations governance institute? Where is NAHO, which was sorting out the best practices on health? The government destroyed the statistical institute and anything that was about to help first nations measure and do evidence-based and results-based management, and then imposed some simplistic bill like this.

We know on this side of the House that complex problems require complex solutions. As H.L. Mencken said, for every complex human problem, there is a neat, simple solution; it is just that it is wrong. The government continues to get it wrong, thinking there could be some sort of simple solution for something that is absolutely so complex and so difficult. These people do not even have the respect to go and visit, listen and talk to people.

As we learned, slowly, through the Kelowna accord, the real solutions come from the bottom up. They take time. The Kelowna accord took 18 months of consulting, listening and having first nations in with the Métis leaders, helping us choose the priorities. In that accord there were real targets and real markers for how we would measure success and how we would know that the money was being spent wisely. As well, and we have said this before in the House, there is the idea of a first nations auditor general that actually came from the bottom up, from the people participating in that process.

It is sad that the government members just continue to refuse to listen and to allow first nations to actually work with them to find the complex solutions for the complex problems. These kinds of simplistic bills have got to stop.

We know they have the arithmetic to get this bill through. We know of their track record of just barging through with anything they want because they have the numbers. They refused to listen on the budget bill. Out of all the so-called debate in the House, all of the witnesses heard at committee, they could not come up with one amendment, because they think they know best and they do not listen.

The government is asking us to send this to committee. What on earth kind of respect do we have for its reputation for what happens to these bills in committee? Therefore, I am asking that the minister give us some sort of promise that the kinds of amendments put forward by Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota will be entertained and enshrined in the bill, so that it cannot do any more damage than this attitude is already doing to the entrepreneurial spirit and the economic development in each of our first nations.

I hope the House has had a chance to look at the motion I put on the order paper to create a fund that would create the kind of education that aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people in Canada need. It is the only way we will go forward. In New Zealand, as we learned, Maori studies were taught in kindergarten to grade 8 and the whole thing turned around.

I hope I can seek and find all-party and unanimous consent to approve my motion before the TRC meets tomorrow night.

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9:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Excuse me. I thought the hon. member had put forward a rhetorical question not a specific question, but if that is incorrect—

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9:30 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like unanimous consent for the approval of my motion as on the order paper.

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9:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member for St. Paul's have unanimous consent?