Feds continue to study bill requiring First Nations chief, council salaries posted online
The federal government is continuing to study a bill that would require First Nation leaders to publish salaries online.
Bill C-27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, passed its second reading in Commons and is now being studied by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
The bill is designed to “enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations.” According to terms proposed in the bill, the Aboriginal Affairs minister could withhold funds from First Nations who do not publish salaries for chiefs and councillors.
First Nations would also have to disclose financial information from band-owned businesses that do not receive funding from the federal government. The figures would be posted on the Aboriginal Affairs departmental website as the information is received. Under the bill, First Nations are required to provide the information upon request to its members within 120 days and maintain the information on their own website for 10 years.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of Canada (AANDC) Minister John Duncan defended the bill before the committee on Oct. 15.
He said Bill C-27 will help build stronger, more self-sufficient First Nation communities, as it will allow community residents to view how band council funds are spent by their elected officials.
“Democracy depends on citizens being able to call their elected leaders to account to ensure they represent the community’s best interests,” Duncan said. “This would ensure that First Nations community members have the necessary information to make informed decisions about their governments.”
Some First Nation leaders have spoken out against the bill, calling it “paternalistic.”
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the regional chief of British Columbia for the Assembly of First Nations, told the committee that First Nations are in a period of transition of moving away from the governance of the Indian Act, but the federal government “seems to increasingly want to design our governance for us.”
“Whether it be with respect to financial transparency and accountability, matrimonial property, or safe drinking water, and so on, what rules and laws—if any—should you be making for our people until such time as our nations are once again self-governing?” she asked the committee on Oct. 17.
“Also, if you do legislate, how do you ensure that such laws are appropriate, have our consent, and support the long-term vision of self-government and do not in fact hinder it?”
Wilson-Raybould further chastised the federal government for not consulting First Nations prior to drawing up the bill.
Duncan said that community members often submit requests to AANDC for basic financial information of their band council, which he believes they should be able to receive from the band itself.
“I would much prefer not to be the middleman in responding to these requests,” he said.
A government MP on the committee asked Wilson-Raybould why should these members have to ask the minister to release this information to them.
“I know that the perception out there that First Nations do not disclose financial information to their citizens is greatly over-exaggerated, in my assessment,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould further argued that the bill would make First Nations’ financial statements available to the public when it should only be available to band members since it is the only people it concerns.
Duncan told the committee that AANDC is open to amendments.
“Now we are reviewing the language of the bill and are receptive to clarification consistent with matching the spirit and intent of the bill,” he said.
The committee held its final meeting on Oct. 31. It will decide whether to approve the bill and, if so, send it back to the House of Commons for final approval.
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