By Frank Larue
A private members bill introduced in the House of Commons on October 1st would require all First Nations chiefs and councillors to publicly disclose their salaries. The First Nations Transparency Act (Bill C-575) was introduced by Saskatchewan Conservative Kelly Block, representing the riding of Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar. “I recognize that there are many First Nations that disclose [their salaries], but some don’t,” said Ms. Block.
First Nations chiefs have the power to set their own salaries, and some of them are paying themselves staggering amounts—some more than ministers and premiers. The bill would require the publishing of all federally funded chief and counsel salaries by the beginning of August each year. Financial data would also include expenses for transportation, accommodation, meals, and the like. The information would be published on the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) website.
Block said she developed the idea with fellow Saskatchewan MP Rob Clarke, who represents the riding of Desenthe-Missinippi-Churchill River. She said the purpose is to make chiefs and councillors more accountable to their people and ensure Aboriginals have the same access to information other Canadians have from their elected officials. Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn Atleo called the bill “ill-conceived,” saying it “appears to be part of a troubling series of insinuations about First Nations people, based on misinformation and a lack of understanding as to what the real accountability issues are.”
An October AFN announcement notes that First Nations salaries are already disclosed through audited statements from the INAC department and the Transparency Act would impose additional reporting requirements that would “only hinder productivity at the community level which is already stretched thin given lack of capacity.” The bill will see second reading in late November and will be sent forward for debate. “It’s my hope that First Nations chiefs will welcome it,” said Block.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Vice-Chief Guy Lonechild said the federation supports the need for transparency and accountability, but they feel the bill is redundant. The FSIN has been publishing their chief and council’s salaries annually on their website for the last eight years.