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.


(Return tabled)

Question No. 658Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.


Manon Perreault NDP Montcalm, QC

With regard to the Initiative for Equitable Library Access: (a) what is the amount of government spending in the past five fiscal years, broken down by year; (b) what strategy did Library and Archives Canada develop to meet the long-term library and information access needs of Canadians with print disabilities; (c) did Library and Archives Canada present the government with a final report on the outcomes and recommendations of the Initiative and, if so, what is its title and date of submission; and (d) when and for what reasons did the government’s participation in the Initiative end?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, lastly, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for ReturnsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members


Private Members' BusinessRoutine Proceedings

June 20th, 2012 / 3:40 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The Chair would like to take a moment to provide some information to the House regarding the management of private members' business.

As members know, after the order of precedence is replenished, the Chair reviews the new items so as to alert the House to bills which at first glance appear to impinge on the financial prerogative of the Crown. This allows members the opportunity to intervene in a timely fashion to present their views about the need for those bills to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.

Accordingly, following the June 4, 2012, replenishment of the order of precedence with 15 new items, I wish to inform the House that there is one bill that gives the Chair some concern as to the spending provisions it contemplates. It is Bill C-420, An Act to establish the Office of the Commissioner for Children and Young Persons in Canada, standing in the name of the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie.

I would encourage hon. members who would like to make arguments regarding the need for a royal recommendation for this bill, or any of the other bills now on the order of precedence, to do so at an early opportunity.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Alleged Usurpation of TitlePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Yesterday the hon. Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada raised a question of privilege to object to the continuing presence on the Internet of the website of his predecessor as the member for Labrador.

I took the matter under advisement and undertook to return to the House.

I can now inform the House that the website is no longer available on the Internet.

Accordingly, the Chair considers the matter to be closed.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeMinister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

moved that Bill C-27, An Act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, as we all know, good governance is the cornerstone of healthy and progressive societies. It is a prerequisite to achieving both social and economic success, so today I am proud to speak in support of new legislation that will foster strong and accountable first nation governments.

With this proposed legislation, community members will know what their leaders are being paid. As well, they will have clear information about the financial decisions made by their leaders so that they can make informed decisions about the future of their community at community meetings and elections.

This transparency will also provide potential investors with the confidence to enter into economic development investments with first nations. Economic development brings jobs and revenues that the community can then use to invest in activities, programs and infrastructure to improve the well-being of all its members.

Under this proposed legislation, first nation governments will be required to prepare consolidated financial statements and post them on a website each year, along with the salaries and expenses of the chief and councillors. This will provide easy access to important information about the first nation by its members and by entities interested in working, investing or partnering with the first nation.

Before I elaborate on both the necessity and the benefits of the first nations financial transparency act, I would like to assure my hon. colleagues that what we are asking of first nations is nothing more than we ask of ourselves.

Nothing better exemplifies our commitment to openness than the way we disclose salaries of elected officials paid from the public purse, everyone from the Prime Minister and members of cabinet to members of Parliament. All of us as parliamentarians fully disclose our salaries and special allowances to the public. Canadians can easily find all of these facts and figures, since the Federal Accountability Act also increased the public's access to information about government activities.

The Government of Canada posts its financial statements on the Finance Canada website. Individual federal departments and agencies disclose travel and hospitality expenses for executives on their websites as well.

We are not alone in making such information available to the public. Most provinces and territories release such information. Salary levels for members of their legislatures as well as supplementary amounts paid for taking on additional duties are posted on their websites, and in some cases, such as Manitoba and Ontario, public sector compensation in excess of $50,000 and of $100,000 respectively is also disclosed to the public.

Many municipalities across Canada post their financial statements and disclose information about compensation to their employees on the Internet as well.

While many first nation governments have put in place sound accountability practices that ensure transparency, there is no legal requirement for them to release this information to community members, and many do not. While many governments in Canada post this information on the Internet, recent research by my department found that as of February 2012, only a limited number of the more than 350 first nations that have their own website have done so.

Clarity about government expenditure and results is vitally important to securing public trust. Visible evidence of effective first nation accounting practices would reassure community members and potential investors that first nation leaders are spending their community funds prudently and appropriately.

Under current funding agreements, first nations councils are already required to provide my department with audited consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration for all elected officials, so we are not creating additional paperwork that would add to their reporting burden.

At the moment there are no statutory or regulatory guidelines related to transparency for first nations governments; consequently, community members cannot easily hold their leaders to account. The manifestation of democratic rights that other Canadians take for granted is not in place for many first nation members.

Currently the only recourse for community members who are denied access to a first nations audited consolidated financial statement is to appeal to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. We receive many complaints.

Some first nations do not willingly release such information when requested. In these cases, the only option for complainants at the moment is to bring the issue to my attention. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has sole authority to compel a first nation to release financial information. This puts me in the position of perpetuating a sense of paternalism that both first nations and our government are working to overcome.

As it is now, when first nation members raise concerns about the non-disclosure of financial information, we respond. My officials work with the band governments to have it released, and if these efforts fail, the department then provides the information directly to the individual member who is requesting it.

The current system is unnecessarily complicated and, quite frankly, undemocratic. It is entirely reasonable for first nation members to expect their governments to meet the same basic accountability standards as other governments in Canada.

I have no doubt that most first nations strive to be accountable to their members and to the federal government. Some first nations go to great lengths to inform members and the public about the operations of their governments, displaying the information on their community websites or posting it in band offices. However, others have not developed and adopted accountability practices. This erodes the stability of their governments and communities. It also tends to undermine Canadians' confidence in first nation governments generally.

In addition, such cases give potential investors reason to hesitate when debating whether to enter into business arrangements with first nations. Before signing a partnership, the private sector wants assurance it is dealing with a reliable and reputable government. If there are doubts, a business may well decide against a joint venture, denying communities the possibility of new jobs and increased prosperity.

Our government is committed to putting in place the legislative frameworks that will foster strong, self-sufficient and accountable first nation governments. We also want to provide the information to first nations members that is available to other Canadians. This will help to build stronger relationships and ultimately create a healthier environment for investment and economic development.

We have developed Bill C-27 in fulfilment of our pledge in the 2011 Speech from the Throne. It will fill the current legislative gap and rectify the many shortcomings I have outlined.

The first nations financial transparency act builds on the excellent work of my colleague, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, whose former private member's bill, Bill C-575, was introduced in the fall of 2010 to enhance the financial transparency of first nation governments. It called for the publication of information regarding chiefs' and councillors' pay.

Bill C-27 goes further. It expands the scope of information to be publicly disclosed to include first nations audited consolidated financial statements. The act would entrench in law a financial accountability framework for first nations consistent with the standards observed by other governments across the country.

A further improvement is the clear requirement that first nations adopt the rules established by professional accounting bodies, such as the Public Sector Accounting Board of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Effective the first financial year after the act comes into force, first nation governments would be required to prepare audited consolidated financial statements and post them on a website each year along with the salaries and expenses of their chief and councillors.

First nations would have 120 days following the end of the financial year to post this information either on the first nation's website or the website of a tribal council or partner organization.

Audited consolidated financial statements and schedules of remuneration details for more than 600 first nations would also be published on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's website.

Easy access to this important information would ensure fairness and accountability, something community members quite rightfully expect.

Apart from making financial information readily available to community members, it would also simplify the process for potential investors to acquire the information they need to make business decisions. Data collected from first nations would also be posted on our departmental website. This would allow firms to go to a single source to compare one community with another when considering a potential joint venture.

Another new requirement under Bill C-27 would give first nation members better remedies if their governments fail to honour their obligation to open the books to the public.

If a first nation does not post the required financial data as required, anyone would be able to apply to a superior court to compel the first nation to publish the information. Once the information is released, it would also be posted on my department's website. This provision would allow a first nation member to hold the leadership accountable.

First nations governments have long advocated for more flexible funding arrangements. They want greater autonomy in allocating the money received under federal funding transfers. This legislation would build upon and recognize the capacity of first nation governments, enabling them to demonstrate that they are accountable governments that respect the basic principles of financial transparency.

This would be a key factor for my department in determining which communities are the best candidates for more flexible funding options. Building upon a first nation's demonstrated abilities and increased accountability, there would be greater opportunities to move from contribution funding to grants in some areas of programming.

I should point out that these same accountability requirements already apply to first nations that have signed self-government agreements. For example, the Tsawwassen First Nation Final Agreement requires that the first nation develop a financial administration system with standards comparable to those generally accepted for governments in Canada. The Nisga'a Financial Administration Act stipulates that the first nation make its financial statements available for inspection by members, including posting the statements on the Internet.

Because self-governing first nations are already demonstrating this high standard within the context of the self-government agreements, they are exempt from Bill C-27.

When first nation governments manage their finances in line with practices in other jurisdictions, it instills confidence in the business community and can provide economic development opportunities in the community. An open, accountable government is a stable government, removing uncertainty that might discourage investment.

This is being proven repeatedly in communities with settled land claims and self-government agreements. Increasingly, they are entering into joint ventures with the private sector to create jobs and generate economic growth in their communities. We are confident that Bill C-27 would help to make this happen in a broader way.

This proposed act would guarantee to community members as well as other levels of government, the business community and all Canadians that first nation governments are effective and transparent in their business dealings.

Once Bill C-27 becomes law, first nations citizens would be able to participate more fully in the democratic process, receive information they require and have the assurance of redress where required.

In conclusion, I am asking all parties to stand behind this very necessary and overdue legislation.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister for presenting the rationale for the bill. I have three questions for him.

First, in section 6.(1) it indicates that any entity that is controlled by the first nations would be required to disclose. The minister made a comment about the importance of economic development and of course many of these entities are businesses. What is the rationale for perhaps undermining the competitive nature of that?

My second question is about section 11. It indicates that any person, including the minister, may apply to a superior court. Why is that any person beyond a first nation; why is it any person?

The third question I have for him is under section 13.(1)(b). It was interesting to hear the minister say that they want to move beyond paternalism and yet 13.(1)(b) talks about the fact that the minister will have the ability to withhold moneys payable as a grant or contribution to a first nation. My question is: How does that change the paternalistic relationship he referred to in his speech?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the reasons we need legislation and regulations is because it is impossible to enforce things when it is just policy. That is the way things operate currently.

On the first question that was posed by the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan about disclosure of band-owned entities, it applies only to the moneys that would accrue to chief and council for salaries. In no way are we attempting through this legislation to have any transparency or disclosure for, let us say, companies or other entities that are owned by the band council. I do know that this has been quite a subject of discussion. There has been some good input received and we will ensure, through the committee process, that the particular clause is given a good airing.

Regarding the other questions, which really relate to the role of the department and the minister, there is an ongoing role for the minister in case things really go sideways, but that is rarely, if ever, used. However, there has to be some ultimate responsibility to the taxpayer.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister's announcement of the bill was done at the Whitecap Dakota First Nation. Chief Darcy Bear provided the aboriginal affairs committee with a list of suggested amendments to the bill when the committee travelled there. Will the minister entertain those amendments and will they be put forward as government amendments?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my strong expectation that the Whitecap Dakota chief will appear at committee. It is my anticipation that he will be talking about proposed amendments to the legislation. We will look very seriously at these as progressive amendments, given that this first nation has been transparent and accountable for many years and gives us a good example of why this legislation is so essential.

I cannot give an absolute answer at this point. I do not want to pre-empt the committee, but we will look very seriously at the proposed amendments.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Kenora Ontario


Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the minister for his speech and for his leadership in this portfolio. I have had the opportunity to be on the standing committee and am now the parliamentary secretary under his tutelage. I consider it an honour to be able to participate in this debate and to participate in a number of progressive activities we are involved in with first nations communities.

My question deals with a comment the minister made in his speech with respect to this being a derivation of Bill C-575, the private member's bill introduced in the last Parliament. The minister seemed to suggest that this bill is a little farther along the lines of enhanced accountability.

I wonder if he might comment a little more on the proposed legislation in terms of how it will more comprehensively address financial transparency by expanding the scope of information contained in this bill. What is the difference?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, the private member's bill from the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar focused exclusively on the subject of chief and councillor salaries and remuneration.

What we are talking about in this bill expands beyond that into the area of the consolidated revenue statements for the more than 600 first nations in the country.

We are not creating additional paperwork. Those statements are already prepared. As stated in an announcement in the past few days, we have a standard reporting format that will actually simplify that paperwork even more. It fits quite well with this legislation.

We are broadening, because we are talking about all of the financial disclosures for first nations. I think this is going to lead us into a much better place for economic development and for the health of communities.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very disturbed by the process that surrounds this legislation. I have seen, in media commentary, that the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo first learned of this legislation by Twitter.

When we think about the magnificent apology the Prime Minister offered to first nations over the residential school issue on the floor of this very chamber, in that apology there was a promise to behave better and differently in the future. I think all parties agree that we want to see accountability and transparency in our own operations as government and in first nations governments. However, we cannot get to that by dictating in ways that suggest unilateralism and a lack of respect.

With the first nations themselves moving toward accountability in promises in their own self-government areas, I think it would have been much better, and I still believe it would be better, to have a partnership moving forward, not dictating to first nations as this bill does.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, we do have support for this legislation from first nations.

I would also remind the member that there was a motion at the Assembly of First Nations in December 2010, which was passed. I cannot remember if it was passed unanimously, but it was strongly supported, that they would voluntarily move into this era of accountability by voluntary measures.

It has now been a significant period of time since December 2010. It appears that there has been very little movement in this direction. We think this legislation is essential to move things where they need to be. It is a very simple exercise in that regard.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-27, an act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations. I will declare at the outset that New Democrats will be opposing the legislation.

I will read from the legislative summary and I want to thank the analysts for the very good work they did in providing a good background on this bill.

The summary states:

The proposed legislation...applies to over 600 first nations communities defined as “Indian bands” under the Indian Act, provides a legislative basis for the preparation and disclosure of First Nations' audited consolidated financial statements and of remuneration, including salaries and expenses, that a First Nation or any entity that it controls pays to its elected officials.

I will come back to the entity because it is an important reason for us to oppose the legislation.

I want to start, though, by reminding the House and people who may be listening about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government indicated it would support and take some steps in implementing it in Canada. Of course, we have seen no action on that.

Article 4 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says that indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions. This is an important aspect in that this is about the right to autonomy and self-determination. This bill was not developed in consultation with first nations and it certainly does not reflect that right to autonomy and self-determination.

I will provide a bit of background. When we listen to the Conservatives, sometimes we think that first nations do not do any reporting. I have to point out that first nations governments currently do all kinds of reporting and audited statements.

I want to refer to a couple of pieces out of the legislative summary. It states:

First Nations and the federal government are both subject to various policy-based and legal requirements regarding the management and expenditure of federal public funds...

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.

AANDC's expenditures are listed in the Public Accounts of Canada, as are contribution agreements signed with First Nations.

The summary goes on to talk about current legal requirements and states:

—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.

There have been some questions about the whole issue around access to information, and there is an analysis. I want to touch on one point on the Access to Information Act. This is an important piece of what first nations are being asked to disclose versus what other non-public sector organizations are being asked to disclose.

The summary goes on to state:

Section 20(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act prohibits a government institution from disclosing financial information provided to it by a third party who consistently treats this information as confidential. In Montana Band of Indians v. Canada...the Federal Court held that First Nations' financial statements are confidential information within the meaning of section 20(1)(b) of the Access to Information Act, and therefore are not subject to public disclosure. However, in Sawridge Band v. Canada...the Federal Court of Appeal held that these financial statements are not confidential vis-à-vis the members of the First Nations band, since band members may review their own band's financial statements under the Indian Bands Revenue Moneys Regulations.

This is important because these court cases indicate that first nations have a right to have this information disclosed to them, but it is not the right of the general public to have access to what could be confidential information.

Under the section titled “Current Policy-Based Requirements”, it states:

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 the executive director, band manager, senior program director and manager. First Nations are also required to release these statements to their membership.

We already have rules in place that govern the release of this information. We heard the minister say that this was policy but now the government needed legislation. I would argue that the minister already has the authority, and in fact the minister admitted he has the authority, to request this information when it is not being submitted.

In December 2006, we had a report commissioned by the Conservatives called “From Red Tape to Clear Results: the Report of the Independent Blue Ribbon Panel on Grant and Contribution Programs ”. This report recommended a couple of general principles around grants and contributions, which included:

1) Respect the recipients—they are partners in a shared public purpose. Grant and contribution programs should be citizen-focussed. The programs should be made accessible, understandable and usable.

The key thing in that is “Respect the recipients”.

The second guiding principle states:

2) Dramatically simplify the reporting and accountability regime—it should reflect the circumstances and capacities of recipients and the real needs of the government and Parliament.

Further in the report, the authors specifically dealt with first nations, Inuit, Métis and other aboriginal organizations by saying:

Fiscal arrangements with First Nations governments are complex, reflecting not only the varied circumstances of the 630 First Nations in Canada but also the fact that payments to First Nations governments are (or ought to be) more like intergovernmental transfers than typical grants and contributions.

Intergovernmental transfers would actually respect that nation-to-nation status that I believe Canada has agreed to through the negotiation of treaties.

The report goes on to say:

The panel is of the view that mechanisms other than grants or contributions for the funding of essential services such as health, education and social assistance in reserve communities are needed...

Then it went on to say that it was outside of its mandate.

The report did say:

Nevertheless, in all our consultations...we were reminded that the current practice of treating these kinds of transfers to First Nations, Inuit, Métis and Aboriginal organizations as more or less standard contribution arrangements is fraught with problems and leads to a costly and often unnecessary reporting burden on recipients.

I come back to the fact that an auditor general looked at the kind of reporting that was required from first nations communities and, over and over again, the auditor general continued to talk about the fact that first nations were required to do all kinds of reports.

The minister spoke about the Whitecap First Nation, and I will refer to that for one second. It came up in a question. The aboriginal affairs committee was fortunate enough to visit with the Whitecap Dakota First Nation and look at the economic enterprises. The minister has argued that part of this would lead to better economic development. The Whitecap Dakota has a very different take on that, and it has raised concerns with the other entity that I referred to in section 6(1) of the act. There are many first nations like this, but Whitecap is an example of a first nation that has in place stellar reporting requirements.

The letter states:

—that ensure the members of Whitecap are fully apprised of Whitecap's financial position. In this regard, Whitecap has approved 20 unqualified audits and has implemented a system of public review of the audits. In addition, as you are aware, Whitecap has also created the Whitecap Council Compensation Commission that has the specific mandate of ensuring that the compensation received by the Whitecap Council is fair, equitable and accountable.

The letter goes on to say that there are some concerns about the fact that salaries or expenses are lumped into a definition of remuneration which would have the potential to mislead people as to what his salary actually was. Of course members in the House have salaries and expenses reported quite separately.

It further states:

Bill C-27 on the other hand goes beyond the reporting related to funds received from the Federal Government. It would also appear to extend beyond the requirement for public sector reporting under generally accepted accounting principles as consolidated reporting of remuneration would include any business entities controlled by a First Nation.

The minister said that would only be salaries paid by these entities, but why would the federal government be interfering in a business project where a band member would be receiving remuneration from that business entity? If the Conservatives were truly concerned about economic development, they would focus on providing first nations the tools and resources they need to do that economic development, rather than looking at what a chief or council member was paid from another business entity. I am not clear why the minister is thinking that enhances economic development.

Many of the first nations that we visited, these were business partnerships. A private sector company works with a first nations company in a business partnership relationship, and some of these businesses may not want some of this information published for competitive reasons. Therefore, I would urge the government to take a hard look at this.

It was also interesting to hear the minister talk about openness and accountability. In his speech he said, “open accountable government is a stable government”. The Conservatives are setting up a double standards. On the one hand, they are saying that first nations have to do more, report more, be more open and accountable, despite the fact that they file almost 200 reports every year to the federal government. The Auditor General has identified that. On the other hand, they will not come clean when it comes to releasing their own facts and figures about the budget implementation act, Bill C-38, its costs and what the impact will be on that. In fact, in an article dated June 19, the PBO said that the Conservative government was fighting him on access to information. He said that government-wide budget cuts would impact federal agencies.

If open and accountable government leads to stable government, why is this government not willing to cough up the facts and figures itself? Why does it have two different standards?.

Further on in this article, Mr. Page said, “What does this even mean? Someone has to explain that to me. Does he mean”, referring to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, “we're having too much impact?” He goes on to say:

Well I ain't apologizing for that. I'm not apologizing for the work we did on the F-35s, on crime bills, or on the fiscal sustainability reports. Those are all papers the government has not produced, that I produced with help from a group of people you could fit around two dinner tables.

For months, Page has been asking for detailed information on the Conservatives' plans for implementing $5.2 billion in government-wide cuts. Although the overall figure was revealed in the March budget, Canadians remain in the dark in terms of how the cuts will affect programs and services they use.

Page published a legal opinion this week, solicited from a leading constitutional lawyer, that concluded that 64 agencies were withholding information and breaking the law by denying the information.

Later in this article, “Following Page's initial request for information, only 18 of 82 federal organizations came through”.

Surely anybody who is looking at this information would recognize that we have an inequality and an injustice here. On the one hand, the federal government refuses to tell Canadians about the taxpayer money it is using. It is refusing to give that information through the Parliamentary Budget officer. On the other hand, the government is saying that first nations have to be subject to a different set of rules that the government itself does not respect. Why would they ask anybody in the House to support that bill?

There are a couple of other points I want to raise on this issue. I refer back to the Auditor General's report of 2002, entitled “Streamlining First Nations Reporting to Federal Organizations”. According to the legislative summary for this bill, this 2002 Auditor General's report:

...described existing federal reporting requirements as a “significant burden” on First Nations communities. It estimated that an average of 168 reports—200 in some communities—are required annually by the principal federal bodies that provide funding to First Nations for the delivery of various programs and services. The report suggested, among other things, that federal departments and agencies better coordinate their reporting requirements by streamlining their program authorities, thereby reducing the number of audits and reports required of First Nations.

The legislative summary goes on to say:

In a December 2006 status report on the management of programs for First Nations, the Auditor General found that meaningful action by the federal government was still needed to "reduce the unnecessary reporting burden placed on First Nations communities.” Noting that AANDC alone obtains more than 60,000 reports a year from over 600 First Nations, the report concluded that the resources devoted to the current reporting system could be better used to provide direct support to communities.

Surely, with 60,000 reports and the authority that already resides with the minister, there is sufficient reporting going on. I would refer back to the report from the independent blue ribbon panel as well, which also highlighted the excess reporting required from first nations, Métis, Inuit and other aboriginal organizations.

Again, nothing has happened with this 2006 blue ribbon report. Nothing has happened in terms of looking at the nation-to-nation relationship. Nothing has happened in moving toward intergovernmental transfers instead of the grants and contributions process that is in place.

There is no doubt that at times community members have difficulty in getting the information they need, but the minister has already acknowledged that he does have the authority to get bands to release that information. The question again becomes one of why the minister does not exercise his authority.

In his speech, of course, the minister indicated that exercising that authority is paternalistic. However, it is a bit odd that on the one hand he is saying it would be too paternalistic for the minister to require the reports that are already in the policies under AANDC, while on the other hand the Conservatives have included an administrative measure in Bill C-27 under proposed paragraph 13(1)(b) that the government could:

withhold moneys payable as a grant or contribution to the First Nation under an agreement that is in force on the day on which the breach occurs and that is entered into by the First Nation and Her Majesty in right of Canada as represented by the Minister, solely or in combination with other ministers of the Crown, until the First Nation has complied with its duty

If that is not paternalistic, I do not know what is.

It sounds to me that on the one hand the minister is saying that he does not want to interfere, but on the other hand, he is making sure that he could interfere with proposed paragraph 13(1)(b).

Another question I asked the minister was on proposed subsection 6(1), which says:

The First Nation must annually prepare a document entitled “schedule of remuneration” that details the remuneration paid by the First Nation or by any entity that it controls, as the case may be, to its chief and each of its councillors, acting in their capacity as such and in any other capacity, including their personal capacity.

The minister indicated that this was just about whatever this entity may pay a chief and councillors. However, that is not as clear as it could be, and it still does not solve the issues around the impact this may have on business relationships.

In sum, there are a couple of very key points in this piece of legislation that certainly raise concerns.

The minister mentioned the Assembly of First Nations in one of his responses. Back in January 2006, the Assembly of First Nations put together an “Accountability for Results” position paper. It outlined a number of principles that, working in conjunction with the federal government, would have helped bolster the accountability and transparency piece.

Part of that was based upon work that the Auditor General had done, which set out five principles: clear roles and responsibilities, clear performance expectations, balanced expectations and capacities, credible reporting, and reasonable review and adjustment.

The Assembly of First Nations and chiefs across this country have indicated a willingness to work with the government on accountability measures, but again, how were first nations included in the drafting of this piece of legislation?

In conclusion, on June 15 there was a press release from the minister saying that the government was strengthening fiscal management and accountability. This press release would indicate that the government already has the power to do many of the things that are included in this legislation, so the big question then becomes why the legislation is needed at this point in time.

It sounds to me as though it is continuing to play a game, saying first nations are not responsible and are not accountable. That is just simply not true.

Rather than bringing forward this piece of legislation that does not address some of the underlying problems with lack of adequate funding and lack of ability to develop some of that capacity, the government brings forward a bill that continues to play to a stereotype in this country.

I urge all members in this House to oppose the legislation.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thnk the hon. colleague across the way knows as well as I do that this is not a paternalistic bill. It is not a bill that has been brought forward with stereotypes in mind.

In fact, in my riding, and I am sure in her riding as well, it is actually first nation community members who are calling for legislation like this to be in place so that they would be able to access information relative to those people who are in leadership roles within their communities.

I know the hon. member would note that there are currently no statutes or regulations or other mechanisms that would require first nations to give out the information that is being requested by the membership.

There are some communities, certainly, that are being accountable by proactively putting this information onto websites or making it available to their community members.

However, I wonder if the hon. member, having stated that first nations are performing a number of different functions in terms of putting forward reports to the government, agrees that there should be an obligation to bring some of that information to the people who are actually being affected on a day-to-day basis, those people who are members of the community who are desperate for this type of information.

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4:30 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Again, Mr. Speaker, that is just misleading. First Nation chiefs and councils already are required to provide that information. Under the Year-end Financial Reporting Handbook, first nations must submit annual audited consolidated financial statements for the public funds provided to them, and that includes salaries, honoraria and so on.

Section 6.4.1 requires first nations to disclose, both to their members and to AANDC, compensation earned or accrued by elected or appointed officials and by unelected senior officials.

Section 6.4.2 stipulates that the amounts of remuneration paid, earned or accrued by elected or appointed officials to be disclosed must be from all sources within the recipient's financial reporting entity, including...some other things.

Clearly there are mechanisms already in place, and the minister himself indicated that he has the authority to require bands to release this information. I know that many band members do have access to those audited financial statements, and they do include salaries, honoraria and expenses that are paid to their chiefs and councils. The mechanism is already in place.

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4:30 p.m.


Mathieu Ravignat NDP Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her contribution to this debate and for her excellent work on first nation issues.

Certainly the Algonquins of my riding have not been consulted on this issue and are very concerned about the burden that this would create. I think of Kitigan Zibi, which is an example of transparency. I think what this really is about is the blame game: blame first nations. As well, it is blind. It is a blind because there is a lack of funding and capacity-building for these matters within first nations.

I would like to ask my hon. colleague this: what could we have done or what could we do in order to create this kind of capacity?

First Nations Financial Transparency ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.


Jean Crowder NDP Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, in 2006 the Assembly of First Nations put together a detailed position paper that outlined some of the key principles—principles that were actually developed by the Auditor General—that would have set the table for a respectful relationship and dialogue. The Crown-First Nations Gathering in January would have been an opportunity to kick off a committee of representatives from the Assembly of First Nations and the government to look at implementing some of the principles in that 2006 position paper.

We know that many times the government has switched to terms of “engagement” rather than “consultation” because consultation includes the notion of free, prior and informed consent. Without those elements of free, prior and informed consent, there is not true consultation, and there has not been true consultation on Bill C-27.