Bill C-575 - First Nations Financial Transparency Act - or is it the - All Chiefs Are Crooked Act? (updated)
Now, the focus on alleged corruption and lack of accountability of First Nations which Bill C-575 is meant to combat, helps to deflect the real issue - Canada's shameful neglect and inequitable funding of basic social programs for First Nations like child and family services, post-secondary education, housing, and water. It also helps focus attention away from the other paternalistic legislative reforms which are being advanced against the will of First Nations on the basis that Canada knows what is best for them.
Perhaps more importantly, this proposed bill turns the attention away from our federal politicians and away from the issue of MPs not wanting to divulge THEIR OWN expenses to the Auditor General. If that is not the ultimate in hypocrisy, I don't what is! You will recall that the Auditor General Sheila Fraser (AG) informed Parliament that she wanted to review the detailed expenses of federal MPs. After taking nearly 10 months to consider the matter, their answer was categorically "NO!" The only option left to the AG was to take them to court which she indicated she was not willing to do.
If you search the Internet and read through back issues of various newspapers you will hear endless excuses from these MPs about why they should not divulge their expenses - including that their expenses are audited by an outside firm. If you take this issue and apply it to a First Nations context, First Nations ALSO have their federal funding audited by firms and report all of this information to INAC in great detail. The issue is not whether or not MPs and First Nations "account" for their money, it is whether the details of this information should be made "public".
Despite the fact that a deal was subsequently reached between the AG and MPs which would allow the AG to do "spot checks" on MP expenses, the National Post reported that her audit would NOT look at the spending of individual MP offices, nor would any report name the names of MPs who had problematic expenses. This is a far cry from an audit of each and every MP's set of expenses being made public. How then could any MP, liberal, conservative or otherwise, demand that the expenses of each and every Chief and band councillor be made public?
Thanks to the questionable conduct of conservative senator Brazeau, even some First Nations community members are starting to believe the conservative hype about unaccountable First Nations, absent any hard facts. On what other issue would we ever ask Canadians and politicians to support legislation to address a stereotype? What is next? If I allege that all Indians are drunks, will Senator Brazeau create a YouTube video from the Senate asking that First Nations be banned from liquor stores?
While conservatives can easily sell a bill with the unassailable message of accountability, the real message is much more insidious: it asks Canadians to conclude, without any proof, that First Nations are not accountable for funding they receive from the federal government and that the ONLY way to address this is for the conservative government to ride in on its "white" horse and save the Indians. Meanwhile, the government can preach about values that it does not respect itself.
Of the times that former Minister of INAC intimated that First Nation elections were fraught with corruption, we never saw any reports or research to back that up. Senator Brazeau's YouTube video implies that First Nations are not financially accountable, but he does not offer any credible proof of this. Even the Frontier Centre for Public Policy made incredible claims this week about the depth of First Nations corruption without referring to a single study, report, or statistical analysis.
What evidence is out there? You could try reading the reports of the AG where she explained that First Nations experience the extreme version of accountability with regards to federal funds and in fact account so much and so often that they submit reports on their funds no less than once every three days. If there are any problems with these reports, First Nations run the risk of being subjected to co-management or third party regimes imposed on their communities to manage their funds. The conservative government has incurred billions of dollars of debt - where is its third party manager?
If you read those AG reports and watch some of the AG's presentations to the House or Senate, you will hear her describe how she has attempted to have INAC address its own problems and lack of progress on social programs and services. She has asked repeatedly that INAC make improvements and commented that INAC has made little or no improvement. She even cited the cap on the funding of First Nation programs and the outdated, problematic funding formulas for funding such programs as child and family services. As we all know, the latter issue is now before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
It is Canada that has dropped the ball here on its own obligations. Trying to deflect attention onto First Nations represents both a promotion of a negative stereotype against First Nations and a hypocritical position given MPs' refusal to do what they are asking of First Nations. Furthermore, the proposed Bill C-575 asks that First Nations NOT receive the benefit of various information and privacy protections under ATIP legislation to which other governments are entitled. Another inequity advanced under an apparently closely held democratic value.
I challenge all Canadians to look behind the hype and get the facts; to look beyond the headlines and see the real message; and to think twice before they impose legislation on First Nations which represent values they don't require of their own governments.