First nations leaders would have to reveal their salaries to their communities and make their councils' financial statements public under new legislation introduced by the federal Conservative government.
The bill goes further towards transparency than one Conservative MP Kelly Block introduced in the last Parliament, which dealt only with leaders' remuneration and not the full financial record of reserves.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) condemned Ms. Block's bill, which died when the election was called, as an example of the federal government dictating how its members operate. And the legislation introduced on Wednesday in the House of Commons got a similar response.
"First Nations support and are committed to the principles of accountability and transparency to our citizens," AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo said in a statement released shortly after Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan unveiled the details of the bill at a news conference on a Saskatchewan reserve.
Chiefs from across Canada have voted for voluntary public disclosure. "We do not support unilateralism that further entrenches us in a system that doesn't work for our people or Canada," Mr. Atleo said. The government must learn to respect first-nations jurisdiction, he said.
Mr. Duncan admitted the AFN was not consulted about the new bill. But the government, he said, has made no secret of its intentions, which were announced in the Speech from the Throne.
"What we are providing here is reporting to the membership, as opposed to reporting to the bureaucracy. This is a worthy objective," the minister said. "Everyone accuses us of running a paternalistic organization that is overly bureaucratic. We're changing that."
Ms. Block, who attended the news conference, said the impetus for the bill came from the members of first nations themselves who were demanding to know what their leaders earned.
It requires first-nations leaders to post their salaries and audited consolidated financial statements on their websites or the website of a tribal council or partner organization. In addition, the financial statements and schedules of remuneration would be published on the website of the Aboriginal Affairs Department.
The department already receives this information and will publish it unilaterally if the first nations do not comply.
Funding to the first nations whose leaders do not fall into line could be terminated. But Mr. Duncan said "that is the last thing we would want to do" because the department would have to find another means to provide essential services at the community level.
A study by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has found that some first-nations leaders were making nothing while others were bringing home big salaries but it was impossible to identify what any individual person was earning.
"Grass roots band members have been calling for a long time to find out what reserve politicians are making," Colin Craig, the CTF's prairie director, said after the legislation was announced. "The legislation brings reserve politicians in line with all other politicians in the country that have to disclose their pay to the public."