Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Thank you, Your Honour, and I offer my warmest congratulations.
My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and it has to do with Bill C-27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which came into effect in July of this year.
Just to refresh your memory, this act requires First Nations to post on the AANDC website their audited consolidated financial statements, including their own-source revenues, that is, money that they themselves generate that they don't get from the government.
At the time, the government's main push for this bill was based on the misinformation that band members couldn't get this information when, in fact, they could if the department had released it to them.
When we studied this bill at committee, Chief Roland Twinn, who was then the Grand Chief of Treaty 8, said to our committee:
The approach taken by Bill C-27 simply reinforces the great- white-father-knows-best syndrome rather than releasing the potential of our people. It will cause great resentment rather than build relationships.
He went on to say that, in fact, indigenous treaty nation governments are more accountable, with annual audits and the onerous reporting requirements that they already supplied to the minister each year without the need for Bill C-27.
Recently, Bill Curry in The Globe and Mail recounted that last night at midnight was the deadline for First Nations to comply with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. At press time, 521 of 582 First Nations had complied. Only 61 were not compliant, and yet Minister Valcourt said that starting Thursday "definitely [for] those that do not comply, we will start withholding funds immediately."
How can the minister justify withholding funds immediately for the 61 non-compliant First Nations, when we know that all First Nations are underfunded and when we know that it wasn't even necessary to enact the First Nation Fiscal Management Act in order for band members to access their band's financial information? The act was redundant, so how can the minister justify withholding funds?
Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): I am always a bit disappointed when I hear the senator speak out against a law that promotes transparency. With the comments that she made earlier this week about the bill on unions and the ones she made today, that makes twice this week. I am always a bit disappointed by that.
With regard to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act, our government expects First Nations band councils to use public funds responsibly in a way that serves the interests of all members of the community. This legislation was implemented to ensure that First Nations band members have access to the information they need and are entitled to regarding the basic financial management practices of their chiefs and councils. It applies the same principles of transparency and accountability to First Nations governments as those that already exist for other governments in Canada.
We are therefore pleased that over 90 per cent of First Nations band councils have complied with the act. We expect all of the band councils to comply, and we want to be very clear: from now on, the government will suspend any non-essential funding for bands that do not comply with the act.
Senator Dyck: Honourable senators, CBC News obtained a letter sent by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to First Nations and it outlines the range of measures that the government will take against those 61 First Nations that didn't comply as of midnight last night. It's really a series of increasingly severe sanctions or threats.
For example, today they're going to immediately start cutting funding, but starting on December 12, the government could choose not to provide for new or additional non-essential program services and activities. In other words, they'll increase the cuts. Also on December 12, the government could either halt funding or terminate funding agreements altogether. Now, that is really a draconian measure.
My question to the Leader of the Government, and I promise I will continue to disappoint you in my questioning, is: How can the minister justify such severe sanctions as terminating funding to First Nations who refuse to post their financial information online when the government full well knows that the band members can get that information from AANDC itself?
Senator Carignan: Senator, the good news is that 90 per cent of the First Nations band councils have complied with the act, and we expect all of the band councils to comply. You alluded to this in your question. For us, it is clear that from now on, the government will suspend any non-essential funding for bands that do not comply with the act.
Senator Dyck: I think I'll skip to my last question.
You say 90 per cent of the bands have complied with the law and a small percentage have not. The news today is that Chief Wallace Fox from the Onion Lake First Nation, Treaty 6 territory, has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the Government of Canada, saying that this act is unconstitutional; that this act is not what you say it is.
If you go to page 18 of the lawsuit, which is actually posted on APTN website, what happened with Bill C-27 — and this was pointed out when we dealt with it at third reading — was that it actually contravenes the Access to Information Act of 1985 that says that the government is not allowed to release private financial information. That is exactly what Bill C-27 is going to do. It's forcing First Nations to release their own-source revenue, money that belongs to them that has not come from the taxpayers, that has not come from the department. Bill C-27 contradicted another act, so Chief Fox is taking the government to court.
How can the government possibly continue to threaten sanctions when you know that Bill C-27 itself is unlawful?
Senator Carignan: Senator, I don't want to comment on a case that is currently before the courts. In addition, I was chastised last week for giving a lecture on politics and then on history. It is not my intention to now give you a lecture on interpreting laws to know which one has precedence over another.
What is important here is that First Nations members, like all Canadians, are entitled to transparency and accountability from their leaders. Our government passed the First Nations Financial Transparency Act to enable First Nations members to demand accountability and be kept informed of the financial management of their communities. This act helps ensure that First Nations governments are more effective, more transparent and more accountable, which will help create stronger, more autonomous and more prosperous Canadian communities.
Senator Dyck: You know, it's interesting about the way the government is posting the financial information with regard to salaries for chief and band councillors. If you look at the salary for Chief Clarence Louie, who is often brought out as a model leader because he has taken the Osoyoos First Nation from being almost in third-party management to a very prosperous First Nation with very high employment — he is often trotted out as a model citizen for that, and I congratulate him — but if you look on the website it says his salary was $146,369. In fact, that is highly misleading. Mr. Louie said his pay as chief is only about $18,000 a year. The rest of that money, some $120,000-odd, is money that he gets from other jobs that he does.
The way the government is posting salaries is misleading Canadians. Will the government go back to its website and, if it's going to post salaries, that's fine, but make sure that it breaks the salaries down so that it lists the money that comes from the Aboriginal Affairs and monies that come from elsewhere, instead of lumping them all together, so that people like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation don't come out and say, "This man is earning an enormous amount of money. It's taxpayers' money." It is not all taxpayers' money.
The Hon. the Speaker: I don't think there was a question.
Senator Carignan: I didn't hear the question mark. I don't know if that was a question.
Senator Dyck: I asked if you would change the way the salaries are posted.
Senator Carignan: Our government expects First Nations band councils to manage public funds responsibly in a way that serves the interests of all community members. We also expect them to comply with the act and follow the rules. Our government will be suspending non-essential funding for bands that do not comply with the act.