Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill.
My colleague opposite very effectively chairs the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, but I was very surprised at his remarks. I know him to have an understanding of first nations issues. I know he has an understanding of the importance of the duty to consult. I know he understands the importance of collaboration and consultation. I know he understands the real meaning of transparency. He used words such as to “compel all first nations governments”. When I heard him say that, I thought to myself that with respect to transparency for Canadians and for parliamentarians to do their work, we cannot compel the Conservative government to provide documents, so why is one group singled out? I am quite struck by the irony of it.
I want to make clear at the outset that Liberals stand for transparency. We certainly stand for accountability in all governments, including first nations governments. We will fight for accountability and transparency with respect, with collaboration and in consultation with those affected. We will do it by being critical of this bill and asking the tough questions that need to be asked. There is nothing wrong with affirming and standing up for the principles of accountability and transparency.
I want to compare this bill with the Kelowna accord which, as members of the House know, was not honoured by the Conservative government.
The Kelowna accord represented 18 months of negotiation, collaboration and consultation. It was a high-water mark for the Government of Canada and aboriginal people, not just first nations, but Métis, aboriginal women and Inuit.
The process was as important as the outcome. Under the Kelowna accord, there was an elaborate, wholesome accountability for a results framework. It was broad based and comprehensive. It was not simply about reporting a number, but about how to deliver results for a community and for the people who live in that community. The most important aspect of the Kelowna accord was that it was mutual. It was not one-sided at the federal government level and it did not compel. It included a real collaboration between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people alike.
The recommendations coming out of the Kelowna accord included the establishment of a first nations auditor general and an independent body funded to oversee the accountability framework. The accountability framework was there. It was arrived at by aboriginal people working together with government through a process to determine how it would be done.
What I find extraordinary about this bill is that the paternalistic and maternalistic attitude of members opposite has come forward once again. There seems to be no respect for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government belatedly agreed to. The bill defies the principles of reconciliation that we heard the government speak to in the House many months ago.
As the sponsor of the bill has stated, much of what is in the bill is already being done. A financial statement approved by a chartered accountant is being done with a contribution by INAC. Generally accepted accounting principles are applied and there is an auditor.
Regarding transparency, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has the power, and did in 2005, to make sure that disclosure is there for first nations and anyone else.
It is not fair to imply that none of that is being done or that it cannot be done even under the existing protocol program.
Therefore, the question is: why has the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development not been compelled to have this done under his own authority under the act? Why is it a private member's bill and not a government bill? Why is this being done through the back door and not the front door?
The government and members opposite know full well that the government has a legal duty to consult with aboriginal people on issues that affect their rights and treaties. It is clear this consultation has not happened. Again we have heard the word “compel”. We have heard that it is mandatory for transparency.
I would reiterate that what is mandatory for transparency is also mandatory for transparency in this House. Again, is this bill compliant with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? I think not. Does the government truly believe in the right of self-government? I think not.
This appears to be an attempt to brand all first nations chiefs and councillors as somewhat corrupt. It is making an insinuation about the nature of first nations leadership and governance. It perpetuates myths and stereotypes that communities right across this country have been working hard to overcome.
There needs to be a different approach, one of collaboration and consultation. There should be a need to support substantive issues surrounding transparency, issues related to housing, water, education and health in first nations communities.
Many groups have commented on this bill. The Quebec native women's association stated in a press release that Bill C-575 “seems to be motivated by a prejudicial and racist view of aboriginal peoples as 'living off society', by implying that the federal funds coming from 'good taxpayers' money' granted to aboriginal chiefs and councillors are ill spent.
The association went on to say that the minister's support for the bill is a violation of his duty to consult and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Auditor General has spoken about fiscally responsible aboriginal organizations and communities. She has spoken about the onerous reporting requirements of first nations communities and says that there is in fact 98% compliance with all of the reporting requirements for first nations people.
Fiscal relationships between first nation governments and the federal government ought to be akin to intergovernmental transfers rather than typical grants and contributions as depicted in Bill C-575.
Transparency and accountability are necessary, there is no question. They are necessary in this House as well as outside the House. They are necessary in all levels of government. However, compelling a mandatory accountability and compelling mandatory disclosure is not the way to deal with Canada's first nations people.
The Liberals support transparency and accountability, but I reiterate that it must be done in collaboration and in consultation. Members opposite know that.
Topic: Private Members' Business
Subtopic: First Nations Financial Transparency Act