Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2011 (3390 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Harper government tabled legislation Wednesday that will force some 580 First Nations bands to publicly release their consolidated financial statements, including the salaries of their chiefs and councillors. The bold move breaks years of unnecessary political paralysis on the issue, holding hostage the interests and rights of residents on some reserves who have been denied the basic government accountability every other Canadian takes for granted.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act, once passed, would force bands to release band financial data to band members, with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) having the power to hand over the information where there is non-compliance. Continued non-compliance could see Ottawa withholding budgeted funds from an offending band council. Such penalties, while extreme and unlikely, put real bite into an act that will offend some chiefs and councils. The Assembly of First Nations has decried past attempts by Ottawa to impose such rules on bands.
But the AFN itself has proven the futility of merely suggesting better accountability and transparency. Last December, the national body of chiefs passed a non-binding resolution unanimously supporting broader financial disclosure. The complaints have continued to roll into the offices of parliamentarians and AANDC from band members denied the right to examine spending and to know how much chiefs, councillors and employees are earning in salaries, honoraria or spending on travel. Repeated reports have revealed many chiefs and councillors earn salaries in excess of premiers and the prime minister.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Duncan's bill would finally resolve an embarrassing deficit of political integrity in Ottawa. While passing successive laws for greater disclosure and accountability for all other Canadians, no federal government to this point has had the guts to finally press native leadership to resolve the lack of enforceable rules for real accountability. A perfectly good bill presented in 2002 by former Liberal Indian Affairs minister Bob Nault was torn up by an ambitious Paul Martin, who in 2003 was crossing Canada currying support for his ambition to depose then-prime minister Jean Chrétien. Mr. Martin promised the chiefs he would kill Nault's governance act in exchange for a promise they would all adopt within three years financial-disclosure rules that were as good as, or better than, those in the federal bill. They said they would, and some lived up to their word. Saskatchewan's Whitecap Dakota Chief D'arcy Bear, at Mr. Duncan's announcement, endorsed the Harper government's bill as necessary to finally deliver on a long-due promise to First Nations people.
This bill gives First Nations people recourse to appeal the actions of elected officials who would deny them the ability to scrutinize the hard facts behind the financial management of a reserve's accounts.
First Nations leaders, some residents of reserves and a misguided NDP caucus will accuse the Harper government of arrogance, of trespassing on the inherent right of First Nations governments, and usurping power of chiefs and councils who insist they know what is best for First Nations people. Those band councils and leaders who have passed rules for strong governance and fully share financial information with their communities have nothing to fear and will see nothing change in their worlds.
Those who continue to wield far too much power over the lives of the people will yell loudest. The denial of basic accountability reveals such leaders hold little respect for the ability of people to draw appropriate conclusions about the usefulness of their elected officials. The federal government has finally taken responsibility to ensure all Canadians enjoy equal rights to hold their governments to account.
This bill can end the polite fiction in Canada that political tyranny only frustrates the cry for democracy in those other countries.