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--