Relations between First Nations and the federal government aren’t what they used to be. First Nations leaders across Canada are frustrated with not being consulted on legislation before Parliament. In this case, it’s Bill C-27: First Nations Financial Transparency Act and many leaders feel it’s heavy-handed and gives the wrong impression of First Nations. AFN BC Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould said, “They suggest that First Nation governments are corrupt, our leaders are not transparent and consequently need to be regulated by Ottawa.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said they are forcing a vote on the financial transparency bill that will require First Nations chiefs and councillors to publish their salaries and expenses. The act before Parliament gained momentum as a result of research from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that alleged more than 50 band politicians earn more than the prime minister and more than 160 are better paid than a premier.
In looking at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s figures one quickly sees that travel and per diems are added to the overall totals. Given the high costs of travelling from remote northern communities, it is not surprising the final totals are high. Added to this is that the federation looks at the taxable equivalent of the final figures meaning the numbers are again inflated to reflect what First Nations leaders would have to earn if they were taxed. So, if they made, for example, $10 a year the inflated figure might be $13.35 or more depending on how it was calculated.
All that aside, the Cree communities can at any time see the salary of their leaders. They even have a say in starting salary and any raises. The Nation, in the past, printed the salaries of the Grand Chiefs, chiefs and other leaders. No leader had a problem with disclosing the information. Transparency is something we can all believe in. Residents in the American colonies revolted because of taxation without representation and that is the case here. Without input and consultation by Canada’s First Nations, the law will be fundamentally flawed and thus draconian. It shows the steps taken and promised for First Nations to achieve greater autonomy and self-governance were nothing more than empty rhetoric in the end. A lack of consent and true consultation not only signals a lack of respect for Aboriginal self-governance, but ensures a continuation of the paternalist and colonialist attitudes that have tainted federal and First Nations relationships.
In many ways the whole issue is a red herring. Checks and balances already exist and access to the information on salaries is usually available to band members willing to dig for it through Band financial statements, public meetings or Aboriginal Affairs data.
This bill, though, does take the spotlight off other issues that should be transparent and subject to accountability, such as the missing and murdered women, education, justice, lack of housing, safe drinking water, poverty, changes to the Nutrition North Program and a host of other First Nations concerns.
I agree with transparency and accountability, but it should apply to much more than a flawed act that will ultimately hinder than help First Nations.