Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, my question for the Leader of the Government in the Senate is related to the First Nation Financial Transparency Act, which, you will recall, was enacted last year. First Nations are supposed to publish the salaries of their chiefs and councils, either on the department's website or on their own websites, as well as their consolidated financial statements, with regard to band-owned corporations and companies, like own-source revenue. They've been given a deadline of November 26 to get this information up. Minister Valcourt said about those not posting the information:
Let me be clear. Our Government will take action, according to the provisions of the law, with regard to First Nation governments that do not follow the law.
He said that his options include court orders and holding back non-essential funding and denying new funding applications. This is what many people were fearful of. Overall, the compliance rate for all First Nations across Canada is 77 per cent. The vast majority have complied as 451 of 582 First Nations have done what is required. The percentage is very high in B.C., but in Manitoba only 46 per cent of First Nations have complied — 29 of 63; and Manitoba has some of the poorest and most isolated communities.
In these poor and isolated communities in Ontario, which we on the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples have visited, the conditions are deplorable. What is the minister going to do to apply sanctions to these communities that don't have enough funding in the first place? How can he possibly hold back non-essential funding? Every dollar counts. Can the leader explain to me how the minister will cut back funding to the poorest First Nation communities in our country?
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Thank you for your question. Like all Canadians, First Nations deserve transparency and accountability from their band chiefs. That is why our government passed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which empowers members of the community and guarantees that they will be informed of their community's financial situation.
It is an important law for the transparency and financial affairs of native bands. This law ensures that First Nations governments are more effective, transparent and accountable, which in turn contributes to the strength, self-sufficiency and prosperity of Aboriginal communities across Canada. Your friends, particularly those in the other place, openly opposed this law, which gives First Nations members the means to act and to ensure that they are informed of their community's financial situation. Instead, their leader is making excuses so that opponents of transparency continue to secretly benefit to the detriment of members of their community. It is scandalous that they oppose this transparency. We expect First Nations band councils to comply with the disclosure provisions in the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. Bands that do not meet the deadline will receive a number of official reminders, and if they do not comply, the government will enforce the relevant provisions of the act.
Senator Dyck: Thank you for that answer, but you didn't answer the question that I asked. I agree with you that all Canadians deserve transparency and accountability. Band members should know what the financial statements are of their particular band. I don't see anything wrong with that.
My question was: The poorest and most isolated communities don't get enough funding right now. How can we possibly hold back so-called "non-essential funding" when every dollar is essential? How can the minister possibly wish to punish people who live the poorest possible lifestyle in Canada? Chief Perry Bellegarde said that First Nations people are treated like second-class citizens living in Third World conditions. That is the situation. How could the minister possibly do that? How can he justify that?
Senator Carignan: I'm pleased that you agree with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. You could perhaps speak to your leader — or former leader — about the benefits of this bill and try to convince him to reconsider his position, which we believe is irresponsible, on this important transparency legislation.
As I said, official reminders will be sent to anyone who doesn't meet the deadline, and several will be sent if necessary. In the event of non-compliance, the government will enforce the relevant provisions of the act.
Senator Dyck: Thank you once again. I agree with most of the provisions of the bill, but I don't agree with the possibility of this type of sanction. I was the critic on the bill and I don't have to follow any leader. I follow what the First Nations people tell me, not what any leader says.
Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.
Senator Dyck: Since we know that some people are making a great heyday out of some of the chiefs and councillors who receive salaries that look outrageous, will the department undertake to publish a list of all chiefs' and councillors' salaries only, and none of their expenses, in one place, so we can all have a look at the picture easily instead of having to click on every First Nation to find out that information?
The department has that information and should publish it in a place where the comparison can be done. In that way, we could see that probably the vast majority of chiefs and councillors do not receive exorbitant salaries. Would the government commit to publishing in one place one list of the salaries for all chiefs and councils without any expenses added to the compilation of their salaries?
Senator Carignan: I hear what you're saying and take note of your comments.