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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yet another promising piece of legislation by Canada’s Conservative Government

Canada’s Conservative government has introduced yet another important piece of legislation in the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

Bill C-27 was introduced in the House on November 23 by Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development John Duncan.  The bill’s purpose is to “to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations by requiring the preparation and public disclosure of their audited consolidated financial statements and of the schedules of remuneration paid by a First Nation or by any entity that it controls, as the case may be, to its chief and each of its councillors, acting in their capacity as such and in any other capacity, including their personal capacity.”

These audited statements will provide invaluable insight into what a band’s chiefs and councillors are paying themselves, and whether the federal government’s grants are really being used appropriately.  Failure to provide disclosure for a financial audit to take place will place the reserve in jeopardy of having its future funding cut off.

This bill comes after Canada has seen its share of financial abuse committed by aboriginals on reserves.  It is required to ensure accountability and responsibility is borne for every dollar transferred to the reserves.

In 2010, for example, the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation revealed that “222 aboriginal chiefs and councillors from First Nations communities across Canada earn more money than their provincial premiers, and 82 make more than the prime minister.”  (Prime Minister Harper makes $317,574 a year and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty makes $208,974).

Leaders of the Alexander Indian Band of Alberta are supposed to be elected by their communities, but they literally bought their re-election in 2002.  They transferred $108,868 to residents the night before the election was to take place, with each person receiving between $150 and $200 with the understanding that they would vote for the incumbent leaders in the follow day’s election.

In another atrocious example, Shirley Clarke, Chief of the Glooscap First Nation in Nova Scotia, was revealed to be taking a $243,000 salary for her work – in a community with only 304 people.  Clarke’s work means she represents each person for $800, and if we carried that math into our House of Commons we’d be paying our Members of Parliament (who represent on average 100,000 people) $80 million a year!

But even after drawing her gross salary, Clarke still had the audacity to grant $978,468 of tax-free money to a fellow band councillor – a contract she insisted was for “business.”

Bill C-27 is yet another step in the right direction thanks to Canada’s Conservative government.  It will afford every Canadian taxpayer the ability to go online and read what every native band is receiving each year – especially when it comes to salaries.  It will allow for the appropriate level of scrutiny when it comes to taxpayers’ money being spent wisely, and surely citizen scrutiny will intensify if we ever again discover a chief to be drawing a handsome $243,000 salary.

But this should not be the end of reforms for aboriginals.  Canada currently spends about $6.3 billion per year to keep aboriginals on reserves – a system which has constantly been referred to as Canada’s own version of apartheid (The Globe and Mail, the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation).

The systemic theft of money by chiefs – as detailed above – is only one problem.  Federal transfers keep aboriginals on reserves, where their livelihood is similar to that of a person growing up in a third world nation.  The land on which these reserves exist belongs to the Crown, meaning aboriginals are treated as if they’re guests renting a portion of land from the government.  It also means they cannot fully benefit from the resources which may be located on that land – valuable resources like oil.

The entire Indian Act needs to be amended, if not outright scrapped and started over again.

Indeed, C-27 is an excellent and necessary first step, but we need much more.