Feds Resurrect Accountability Bill

Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan is resurrecting a bill that will require all First Nations to publicly disclose the salaries of all chiefs and councilors. On November 23rd, the minister and Conservative MP Kelly Block visited Whitecap Dakota First Nation near Saskatoon to announce the new bill. “Our government believes First Nations, like all Canadians, deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials,” said Minister Duncan. “The bill builds on our government’s ongoing commitment to ensuring First Nations have strong, transparent, and accountable governments. It will also lead to decreasing the reporting burden for First Nations.”

This bill is the reintroduction of a similar private members bill that Block introduced in last year’s parliament which made it to second reading but died when the election was called. Under the proposed legislation, individual First Nations would have to publicize all financial information on their own websites or the website of their tribal councils or partner organizations. The bill requires that audited financial statements and schedule of remuneration that First Nations are already required to submit to the federal government be published on the website of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Those statements detail the expenses and salaries of chiefs and councilors.

Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nations said he supports the bill. “Transparent and accountable First Nation governments support a strong environment for investment leading to greater economic development,” he said. Bear said his band regularly files financial statements that are shared with all band members, adding that he already introduced a fiscally responsible accountability regime on the First Nation that has lead to great success.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations also congratulated the federal government’s initiative adding that the FSIN supports accountability and transparency measures for all levels of government. “The federation is encouraged that Saskatchewan MPs are finally taking an interest in First Nations issues,” FSIN stated. “It is hoped that they will also assist in other important issues that First Nations people and communities continue to face on a daily basis including health, housing education, safe drinking water and others.” The FSIN has repeatedly called for the creation of a First Nations Auditor General’s Office to account for monies that flow through various levels of government before reaching First Nations communities. “The public should know how much money actually reaches the communities,” said FSIN Vice-Chief Morley Watson. “This type of accountability would help identify the gaps that need to be addressed. This is the kind of work a First Nations Auditor General’s Office would conduct.”

The FSIN has sent out an open invitation to Block and Saskatchewan’s other Members of Parliament to attend their Winter Legislative Assembly hoping the MPs will get first-hand knowledge of the challenges their people face. When she spoke in parliament last year, Block said many elected First Nations officials already meet standards of transparency and accountability, but those who don’t should be required to. The Rosetown-Biggar MP said the bill would allow band members to easily access financial information about their elected officials and strengthen Canadians’ support for First Nations governments.

The Saskatchewan MP introduced her bill around the same time as the Canadians Taxpayers Federation released a scathing report on chief’s salaries. Its analysis said that 222 Aboriginal chiefs and councilors from First Nations across Canada earn more money that provincial premiers, and 82 make more than the prime minister. The AFN rejected that analysis, and at a special chiefs assembly in December 2010, a resolution was passed that called Block’s bill unnecessary and heavy-handed. It said that First Nations already provide a minimum of 168 reports to federal funding departments and that the level of disclosure of First Nations governments is often above that of other elected officials. AFN national chief Shawn Atleo said chiefs are already taking many steps to open up their practices, but the government is imposing new rules without due respect. Atleo said Ottawa’s main priority should be to address urgent issues such as First Nations education, health, and poverty.