Mr. John Bryden (Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I am going to take this debate in a slightly different direction than it has been so far this morning and comment on clause 16 in the bill before us which is a related amendments clause. It says:
Subsection 13(3) of the Access to Information Act is replaced by the following:
(b) the council, as defined in the Westbank First Nation Self-Government Agreement given effect by the Westbank First Nation Self-Government Act.
Well, Mr. Speaker, section 13 of the Access to Information Act requires the government to keep in confidence information it has received from either a provincial government, or a foreign government, or an aboriginal government. Mr. Speaker, this section basically denies public access, particularly as we read here, to the debates, the exchange of information with the council of the Westbank nation.
The reason why section 13 exempts foreign governments is obvious but the reason why it exempts provincial governments from the application of the Access to Information Act and the requirement for transparency that is therein contained is that provincial governments, that other order of government, all have freedom of information legislation of their own.
Municipal governments across the country are subordinate to provincial governments. It varies from province to province, but if provincial governments want to require municipalities to have freedom of information or access to information legislation, then the provincial governments can impose it. Indeed, if I may say so, in come cases provincial freedom of information and privacy legislation is better than the federal law.
However, what we see here is an instance where the federal legislation is creating an exemption for all aboriginal governments. We can see the problem. For some reason the federal government has decided that aboriginal communities and aboriginal governments will be excluded from the requirement for transparency and accountability that is required of every other order of government and indeed just about every other institution that is subordinate to government in the country.
So we have this again, Mr. Speaker, and I think it is something that every Canadian should be very concerned about, we have a situation where because it is an aboriginal community, it is given, shall we say, a benefit of secrecy that is not accorded to non-aboriginal communities and non-aboriginal orders of government.
We need to be very concerned about this. We know from our own experience, anecdotally perhaps, that those institutions that operate without transparency, those institutions that have money to spend and influence to use, to apply, in order to benefit friends, to benefit people who should not be benefited, where transparency does not exist in these groups, abuses do occur.
The difficulty is that I think most of us who have had any experience with aboriginal communities at all know that some of the problems that exist in aboriginal communities have to do with the fact that the leaderships of those communities are not accountable and do not have requirements of transparency.
The previous Liberal government attempted to address this problem in a broad sense by something called the corporate governance bill. That bill would have required aboriginal communities to meet standards of governance, standards of transparency, standards of election and disclosure that were at least parallel to the same standards that we would find in the municipalities across Canada, that we would find in school boards and in any other political or quasi-political institutions in the land.
I regret to say, Mr. Speaker, and I really regret to say that the current government, under this Prime Minister, has not carried forward on that important legislation. Many of us who have long experience on the aboriginal affairs committee and many of us who have had experience with aboriginal communities in our own ridings know that one of the fundamental reasons for poverty and distress on Indian reserves and in Indian communities across the country has to do with the fact that there is not the level of transparency, there is not the level of accountability, and the money is getting to the leadership in too many cases and not getting to the people. It is a management problem that could be addressed by transparency, which would lead, I think, to increased efficiencies.
Really, we should not, anywhere in this country, want to see any kind of political entity operating without the legislated requirement of transparency. If there is an inherent right of all Canadians, it is the right to be able to see how we are governed, to see how those who govern us spend our money.
What we have done in this legislation, in this Bill C-11, is that the federal government, on its initiative--on its initiative, Mr. Speaker--has excluded the Westbank nation from coverage under the Access to Information Act, even though everywhere else in the country provincial legislation applies to municipalities. Those municipalities or school boards that do not have adequate transparency regimes are still subject to provincial law and could have them, but in this particular case aboriginal self-government is entirely subject to federal law and we have this instance where the federal government has chosen--I do not like to say this--chosen based on race to exclude a government from the proper regime of transparency that we expect of all other Canadians.
So, Mr. Speaker, I think this is a major flaw in the bill. It is very, very disappointing. Because of other circumstances my attention has been diverted in the last month and a half or so, but I am very, very sorry that I do not have an opportunity to move an amendment, because what we really ought to see in this legislation is that we ought to see the Westbank First Nation subject to the Access to Information Act.
I should tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the Access to Information Act is an act that provides protection for all kinds of confidences. The federal government, this federal government, operates very effectively under the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, and so there is no reason why an aboriginal first nation government could not operate under the Access to Information Act.
So it is a disappointment, Mr. Speaker, and I think it does have to do with a weakness in the charter. I tend to agree with many of the speakers who spoke before me. It is too bad that the charter basically exempted Canada's first nations, Canada's aboriginals, from the application of the charter. It does so in section 25. I will read it, if I may, because I think it is important for Canadians to know what section 25 says. The rest of the charter describes all the protections that Canadians have, freedom of speech and democracy and so forth, and then section 25 goes on to say:
The guarantee in this Charter of certain rights and freedoms shall not be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from any aboriginal, treaty or other rights or freedoms that pertain to the aboriginal peoples of Canada--
In other words, what the charter does is put aboriginal rights, as defined by treaty or other means, above or beyond the charter. This is precisely the debate that we are carrying on today. Is it right, is it proper, for any aboriginal community or any aboriginal government to be able to operate outside the charter?
So, Mr. Speaker, I really do think that what is really necessary is not to repeat this type of situation over and over again. What is really necessary is for the government to rethink its entire strategy with respect to Canada's first nations and treat them in law like other Canadians.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Westbank First Nation Self-Government Act