Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-27, An Act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations.
To begin with, the title of this bill is all wrong. It would have been better to call it “Do as I say, not as I do”. This bill is asking aboriginal communities, the first nations, to do what the government is not prepared to do. I will give two examples, but there are many more.
The first example concerns the government's intention to eliminate 19,200 public service jobs, in accordance with the budget tabled this year. Since the budget was tabled in the House, more than 20,000 people have already received a notice indicating that their jobs may be affected. People are trying to figure out how many jobs will disappear.
The President of the Treasury Board is hiding behind a so-called requirement to abide by a provision in collective agreements to maintain his silence. This provision allegedly requires him to notify the incumbents of affected positions before making the information public.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada even asked the President of the Treasury Board to release the overall figures. PSAC representatives understand this provision but are still asking the President of the Treasury Board to disclose this information. However, he still refuses to do so, even though the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada made the same request.
According to an article by Manon Cornellier in today's Le Devoir, the president fully supports the full disclosure of this information, as long as it does not identify the members concerned. The President of the Treasury Board could easily give an overall figure, but he refuses to do so. He even refuses to disclose this figure to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
So the government is asking the first nations to fully disclose the figures concerning specific people, yet it is not prepared to obey Parliament's own laws, this country's own laws, by disclosing information. However, this information is necessary to understand the scope of the measures in the budget. As I mentioned earlier, the bill we are discussing this evening should instead be called “Do as I say, not as I do”.
The other example is that of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who is asking for information that he is authorized to have by law, but that the Treasury Board secretary refuses to give to him. We are headed for an interesting showdown. We have a Parliamentary Budget Officer whose very position was created by this government at the beginning of its mandate in 2006.
I have had the opportunity—on more than one occasion—to carefully examine the piece of legislation that created that position. Perhaps you will recall, Mr. Speaker, that we examined it very carefully during a meeting of the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament. Indeed, the problem we had was knowing where the Parliamentary Budget Officer should fit in. So, having a good grasp of this piece of legislation, I want to share the legal opinion that the Parliamentary Budget Officer made public at the beginning of the week: the law does give him the right to have this information, which the government refuses to provide.
Here we have two examples of the government's refusal to be transparent. And yet one of the primary duties of parliamentarians on both sides of the House—not only on this side, but also on the government side—is to ensure that we have the information we need in order to verify that the government is in fact doing its job.
It is impossible for us to do this work when there is no transparency. Asking parliamentarians to support a bill that imposes draconian transparency on the first nations that the government is not even prepared to consider itself borders on hypocrisy. Parliamentarians have a constitutional mandate to verify the government's actions and figures. They have to have this information before they can support the plans that are presented to them.
Other aspects of the bill are very troubling to me. One of my colleagues spoke at length earlier about the simple fact that aboriginal communities have been encouraged for some time now to take charge, to develop businesses, to move forward and to create jobs, wealth and capital. Many have done just that.
If we approved the legislation before us without making any changes to it—I am going to take a few minutes because I am on a roll—we would be asking the first nations who took the advice they were given to disclose all their trade secrets. The government itself refuses to do so, and rightfully so, for crown corporations that have to remain competitive.
The bill that the Conservatives are asking us to pass does not protect companies belonging to first nations and would require them to fully disclose to all competitors all the information and secrets that allow them to operate in a competitive world. We cannot support that.
I would also like to quickly address the fact that the government is adding to their burden. This was mentioned earlier: 60,000 reports are submitted to the department each year. There are approximately 600 aboriginal bands. That means that every year, each band has to submit an average of 100 reports, or approximately one report every three and a half days. And now the government wants to add to that. This would create an administrative burden that would prevent them from meeting this obligation. And the government is asking us to support this as though it were no big deal.
In less than 10 minutes, I have pointed out three glaring inconsistencies in what the government is asking others to do but is not willing to do itself. Since I have 20 minutes, I could go even further. This does not make any sense. If the government really wants to go ahead with this, it should at least agree to some amendments.
I would be remiss if I failed to bring up the last point because all my colleagues mentioned it. I have been here for quite a while now. I have had the opportunity to work in seven Parliaments since I was first elected, and this is the first time that I have seen the government completely refuse to conduct any consultation. They do not consult us at all.
We are the elected representatives of the people, and the government decides and dictates everything: process, dates, what we are going to do, when and how. It has no intention of consulting the official opposition, the third party or the people who are concerned about its bill—in this case the first nations. It is absolutely shameless. I was in cabinet when this agreement was being negotiated. There was our colleague at the time, Andy Scott, who was the Minister of Indian Affairs; the hon. member for St. Paul's; and other colleagues.
It took a year and a half to negotiate the agreement with aboriginal peoples. There were respectful and structured consultations that produced results and made progress. Solutions were found in this place. The government has decided to impose a bill requiring full disclosure.
The first nations themselves had agreed to the creation of the position of auditor general. It was in the Kelowna accord. Contrary to what we will be told and what has been constantly repeated, funding of $5 billion over five years was allocated. It was in the fiscal framework, as the member for Wascana would say. It was in the budget envelope. It had been negotiated. The weekend before the government fell, in Kelowna, every premier, without exception, and all first nations chiefs, without exception, supported the Kelowna accord, which would have eliminated the gap in the circumstances and quality of life that existed between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians. There was still a gap in terms of education, housing and health.
The Kelowna accord would have helped eliminate this gap within five years. We finally would have had something to be proud of in our relationship with Canada's aboriginal peoples. What did the government do when it took office? The first thing it did was tear up the Kelowna accord claiming that there was no accord, that it was some agreement scribbled on a napkin somewhere and that no funding had been allocated. That is not true.
I was in cabinet at the time. I know what was negotiated. I know that everyone agreed. If we had had the Kelowna accord, our first nations would not be in the situation they are in today. If the government has a modicum of respect for Canada's first nations, then it will go talk to them. Let the government go talk to them before imposing this type of bill. This is no way to go about things. We live in Canada and as far as I know, we live in a democracy. However, I am starting to have some doubt about that given everything I am witnessing in this Parliament and in the committees.
I cannot help it; I have the time and I am going to use it. There is a phenomenon in this Parliament that is very indicative of what this government does with regard to first nations and other groups it does not agree with. It does everything behind closed doors.
Committees are struck and instead of debating in public, instead of being transparent as the government wants the first nations to be, what do the Conservatives do? They come to the committee meeting, they move that it be held in camera and, because they have a majority and the decision cannot be debated, the meeting is held in camera. I call that the new definition of a black hole. Everything that is said in camera remains sealed forever. Consequently, all discussions are held in camera instead of in public. The voters, the people who sent us here to represent them and to work for their well-being, can no longer follow the work done in committee. That is shameful.
I hope that one day, perhaps when an election is looming and the members across the floor are beginning to feel the heat, they will come to their senses and put an end to this crap. This really is crap. They treat the members of this House, who are duly elected by their constituents, like people who are incapable of public debate, when they are the ones who are afraid of it. This just is not working anymore.
When the time comes to vote on Bill C-27, I invite my colleagues to allow it to go to committee, but we probably will not have a choice, since the Conservatives have a majority. Let us hope that in committee, an ounce of common sense will prevail and the most shocking, hypocritical and contradictory elements of this bill will be amended and removed to ensure that the first nations are treated with the respect they deserve.