Bill C-27, billed as an Act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations, received its second reading in the Senate yesterday. As the Senator Lillian Eva Dyck stated so eloquently, “Bill C-27 is yet another piece of legislation that this government is pushing through the legislative process without any prior consultation and accommodation with First Nations. As such, it has only proven to add to the deteriorating relationship between the federal government and First Nations across Canada.”
Senator Dyck went on to state, “the truly disheartening thing is that First Nations across this country are willing to be partners in reforms on governance, especially on issues of transparency and accountability. As Senator Patterson mentioned in his remarks, the Assembly of First Nations has already passed a resolution that requires First Nations to make public financial information to their membership. Instead of approaching First Nations as equal partners in Bill C-27, this government continues to treat them as dependent adult children.”
In other words, Bill C-27 undermines Treaties, the Treaty relationship, and Indigenous sovereignty … and not just in the eyes of Aboriginal peoples.
When the treaties were first forged between the First Nations peoples and representatives of the Queen (and later on, agents of the Government of Canada), it was understood that these agreements were between nations. Bill C-27 intends to strip this fact completely from the agreements, effectively marginalizing and then negating Indigenous sovereignty.
Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould is absolutely correct when he states, “First Nations should be responsible for determining the rules that apply to our governments and governing bodies.”
“[quote] … the proposed Bill will not improve the capacity of First Nations to assume control over their own affairs. By focusing only on the expenditures of First Nations, the proposed legislation fails to address larger systemic issues of funding and responsibility for those issues [end quote]”.
Most Canadians are unaware of the fact that in 2002, the Auditor General of Canada had this to say about First Nations reporting:
The reason for requiring 168 reports was due to the fact that “reduced reporting requirements under INAC multi-year agreements (financial transfer arrangements)” had been arrived at, down from the previous 202 reports First Nations communities could be expected to file with four federal organizations in the Auditor General of Canada’s report. OF special interest is the fact that the Auditor General of Canada stated many of the reports that had to be filed with the Government of Canada were unnecessary and oftentimes not used by the Government of Canada.
As recently as November 22, 2012 NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic, Jean Crowder was quoted by mainstream media as saying:
“[quote] … The federal government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth on this issue,. It expects unprecedented levels of transparency from aboriginal communities but, meanwhile, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has to threaten to sue the Conservatives to get them to release their own financial information [end quote].”
Two clauses in particular at the heart of Bill C-27 should be noted, these being clauses 13(1)(b) and 13(1)(c). As the clauses read at present, it gives the Government of Canada the power to withhold or end funding completely (whether its monies from grants or from contribution agreements) to First Nations, if the Government of Canada feels a First Nation has not complied with Bill C-27 to the Government’s satisfaction. It need not be a fact for funding to be withheld or ended completely. If it happens to be an incorrect assumption at the time, the decision can be reversed. But how is this fair to First Nations peoples?
This sort of Bill endangers education, health, housing, and more on reserves.
The Government of Canada has the right, according to these clauses to engage any or all “ministers of the Crown” until the First Nation whose funding is being withheld or terminated, acquiesces to the demands of the Government of Canada. There doesn’t seem to be any mechanism in place in Bill C-27 to create a balance of power between First Nations peoples and the Government of Canada.
First Nations are being held to a far higher standard than the standard set by government as it pertains to non-Native sectors. In Ontario, the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act makes it mandatory for provincial ministries and organizations (i.e. municipal governments, universities and colleges, school boards, hospitals, Crown agencies, etc.) to publish information on public sector employees earning a salary of $100,000 or more per year. However, Bill C-27 states that every Chief and every Councillor must publish their yearly salary and allowances, even if it falls well below the $100,000 bar set for the non-Native counterparts.
However, in Quebec, the Privacy Act makes all public-sector salaries personal information and as such, it is against the law to insist that salaries be publicly disclosed. Meanwhile, Bill C-27 would make it against the law for First Nations in that province to abide by Quebec law, insisting that they abide by the rules set out in Bill C-27.
According to the Assembly of First Nations, “In its current form, Bill C-27 will not support First Nations’ accountability, but instead will increase already onerous reporting requirements and could jeopardize funding for essential services in the event a First Nation does not have the internal capacity to comply.”
And what will come of the Aboriginal Business Development Program? Will the full disclosure published online that’s part of Bill C-27 make it so that First Nation owned businesses will have to publicly report income and expenses? Yes, it will. How will that be fair when non-Aboriginal businesses benefiting from similar programs in the non-Native sector are not under the same demand to publicly report their income and their expenses? Non-native businesses will have the inside track when it comes to bidding on contracts which will, in turn, undermine healthy business competitiveness.
The negative stereotype that First Nations peoples are pretty much all corrupt is not based on data. Statistically, there are no facts to support this stereotype. Factually, there is no proof to support this stereotype.
However, there is one fact reality that does exist when it comes to playing loose and fancy free with requests from Kevin Page of the Parliamentary Budget Office, most notably the Finance Department.
Even though the Harper Government first hired Kevin Page to specifically hold the government accountable with regards to its spending, after he found discrepancies, that transparency became less transparent than what it was supposed to be. As of October 16, 2012, only 19 departments out of 82 had complied with the Parliamentary Budget Officer request to report the savings and reduction measures contained in the March 2012 federal budget. It had to come down to a threat of “filing and serving legal notice on all non-compliant Deputy Heads.”
Should First Nations peoples trust that the Harper Government and its Bill C-27 is in the best interest of First Nations peoples when its own federal departments are unable to guarantee the same level of transparency and accountability?
COMING UP TOMORROW: Are Stephen Harper’s paycheque and allowances in line with those of First Nations leaders?