The federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister says he is demanding no less than what is owed to the citizens of any government in a new law that requires native chiefs and councillors to publish their salaries and other remuneration.
But John Duncan has been criticized by first nations leaders for failing to consult with them before introducing the legislation. And many chiefs say the bill is just one more example of the government being unwilling to deviate from unilateral action and paternalistic behaviour.
Along with other measures that have been introduced or promised by the Conservatives, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act is creating resentment that could lead to repeated showdowns between Ottawa and aboriginal governments in the weeks and months ahead.
Mr. Duncan defended the act before a Commons committee on Monday by saying “democracy depends on citizens being able to call their elected officials to account.” But he did not answer repeated questions from the opposition about why the government did not consult with first nations leaders before drafting it.
The proposed legislation would require first nations leaders to post their salaries and audited consolidated financial statements on their websites. They would also have to disclose financial information about band-owned businesses.
Carolyn Bennett, the Liberal critic for aboriginal affairs, said it is that last provision that most worries first nations leaders because it could create an unfair advantage for their competition. Mr. Duncan said he is aware of those concerns and will consider amendments or clarifications to address them.
The minister also said his department has received about 250 requests every year from members of first nations who want to know what their leaders are making. “I would prefer not to be the middle-man responding to those requests,” he said.
Derek Nepinak, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said Monday he is aware of no consultations with first nations with regard to the financial transparency legislation.
“For several years, we have had no control on how funds are expended. Our community-based governments have been largely diminished to flow-throughs for federal contribution agreement dollars, while band administrations are overburdened with redundancy and reporting requirements,” said Mr. Nepinak. “In my opinion, the legislation is a prime example of how generally poor attitudes and systemic racism have informed law and policy respecting indigenous people.”
The transparency act is not the only Conservative government measure that has irritated first nations leaders, who complain about having laws thrust upon them.
A safe drinking-water bill tabled last year has been criticized for regulating water quality without providing the infrastructure many first nations would need to meet the imposed standards.
A proposal to introduce private-property ownership and to allow first nations to sell parcels of their reserves has been derided as a land grab by big oil and gas.
An anticipated act to overhaul native education will be boycotted by most first nations leaders, who say there has been inadequate consultation.
And bands in many parts of the country take issue with the government’s support of natural-resource development on their land, which they say is proceeding without their approval.
Still, Mr. Duncan told a conference on aboriginal enterprise on Monday morning that his government is committed to consulting with native groups. “When it comes to major projects,” he said, “our government takes its duty to consult with aboriginal groups very seriously.”