The Harper government is chastising Justin Trudeau for stating he would scrap a new federal law that forces First Nations to disclose salary and other financial details online, calling the Liberal Leader's position an affront to taxpayers.
Conservative Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt issued a statement Monday arguing that Mr. Trudeau is offside with First Nation community members who want this information disclosed.
"Justin Trudeau announced that he will repeal the First Nations Financial Transparency Act and in doing so has chosen the side of those First Nation chiefs, like his star candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould, who would keep this basic financial information hidden from their communities and from Canadian taxpayers," the minister stated.
"We put this legislation in place to empower community members and ensure that they are informed of their community's financial situation. The fact that Justin Trudeau would give opponents of transparency and accountability an easy way out is an affront to the community members and taxpayers this act is intended to serve."
The minister was reacting to comments published Monday in the Vancouver Sun based on an interview the Liberal Leader gave to the newspaper during a visit to British Columbia. The news report said Mr. Trudeau hesitated when asked whether a Liberal government would keep or scrap the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. The 2013 law requires First Nations to disclose salary and other financial information online, either on their own website or by sending reports to the Aboriginal Affairs department for posting on a government website. The deadline for reporting was July 29, but as of last week, nearly two-thirds of the roughly 600 First Nations subject to the act had not filed reports with Ottawa. It is not clear how many have complied by posting the information directly on their websites.
The Vancouver Sun said Mr. Trudeau began a response to a yes-or-no question about the act by saying "whether we keep this legislation," and then corrected himself.
"Actually, I wouldn't keep the legislation in place. I would work with First Nations to make sure that a proper accountability act that would have disclosed any excesses we see, but is done in a way that is respectful of the First Nation communities," Mr. Trudeau is quoted as saying.
The federal law was opposed by the Assembly of First Nations and the AFN's regional chief for B.C., Jody Wilson-Raybould, appeared as a committee witness during the bill's study to urge Parliament not to pass the bill. Ms. Wilson-Raybould argued the bill was created without consultation and warned the bill could trigger a legal challenge.
The AFN argues First Nation members have a right to financial information about their community but that it should not necessarily be posted on a public website. Some chiefs have argued that such disclosures place their First Nation-run businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Liberal MP and aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett told The Globe a Liberal government would hold consultations with First Nations on how to craft a "better bill" that addresses concerns like those related to on-reserve businesses while delivering accountability. Ms. Bennett said those talks would determine what information is made public and how.
"We have to start again because [the current law] just doesn't work," she said.
Both the Liberals and the New Democratic Party voted against the bill when it was before Parliament.
Greta Levy, a spokesperson for the NDP, said an NDP government would consult with First Nation leaders before deciding on a course of action. Ms. Levy also poked fun at another reported comment of Mr. Trudeau's in which he suggested the recent salary disclosures was a positive development in spite of the flaws with the legislation.
"We wouldn't shoot from the hip or say 'you can have good outcomes out of bad things,'" said Ms. Levy in an email.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould was acclaimed July 31 as the Liberal candidate in the new riding of Vancouver Granville. She plans to continue her work with the AFN and take a leave of absence during the campaign.
That decision is not sitting well with some native leaders. Chief Isadore Day of Ontario's Serpent River First Nation has written to the AFN claiming her decision to remain as B.C. regional chief places her in a conflict of interest. A former B.C. chief, Art Manuel, has also called on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to resign from her position with the AFN.