Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bill C-575 - First Nations Financial Transparency Act - or is it the - All Chiefs Are Crooked Act? (updated)

Well, the witch hunt has officially begun. If conservatives scream loud enough and persistently enough that all First Nations Chiefs are corrupt, then eventually people will start to believe that. Add to this the right-wing voices of academics like Flanagan, Gibson, Widdowson, and Helin; organizations like the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and Canadian Taxpayers Federation; and the strategic media use of isolated examples, and the anti-First Nation movement is reborn complete with its own Aboriginal spokesperson - Senator Brazeau.

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.


  1. Pam,

    Always a great read and you raise some very thought-provoking points! I believe that accountability is required of all governments and that does include our First Nations governments as well.

    It certainly does rankle me that the very ones who seek to institute this specifically against First Nations governments do not believe they must walk the proverbial talk themselves. Hypocrisy at its finest.

    I welcome all accountability from all governments. The standard and transparency should be no more or no less for any of them.

    Thank you for all of your efforts on this front... and many others!


  2. Good Blog. Just tripped across it. Not just this post but really good stuff. How can it be that it took me this long to find it?

  3. Linked to your post, Pam.
    The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is running with this, promoting the bill for the government.

  4. More 'divide and conquer' brought to you by CRAP, the Conservative Reform Alliance Party. In Saskatchewan, the relationship between Canada and the Indian is determined by Treaty and nothing else. All this talk about accountability, compliancy & transparency make sense in the context of the order of government. But, tell me, where do these terms exist within the Treaties? Chiefs have got to start waking up--their relationship to the Crown is dictated by the terms of Treaty and not the conventions of parliamentary acts. The sooner we start handing back the money and asking for the return of the land including the trillions of dollars worth of natural resources, the better off we will be. We are a sovereign people with title who signed a legal document outlining the terms and conditions of peaceful coexistence. If the government continues to impose rules which seek to limit sovereignty then the meaning and weight of Treaty is lost; and once the meaning of Treaty is lost, it ceases to hold relevance, which is exactly where the GOC wants to lead us. After all, Treaty serves to remind governments of their obligation. It precedes the acts that created Saskatchewan and the Constitution. Treaty is a living, breathing entity that must serve as the only basis for defining our relationship with the Crown--the Elders understood this but they are disappearing and in their place we see the rise of the compliancy Chiefs who cannot see the forest for the tipis.

  5. I've read the bill and it doesn't go far enough. It only applies to "governments" i.e. Band Councils. It doesn't apply to, say, the Gitxsan Treaty Society, which is not controlled in any way by the Bands. Yet, the documented history of the GTS includes over $300,000 paid to board members as "honourariums." Band Councils are already accountable - if the members don't like the way the Chief and Council behave, they can be de-elected. Not so with these registered societies that act like governments. The latest news is that in 2009 the GTS was handed "$90,000 on the spot" by Enbridge in exchange for betraying the neighbouring First Nations and publicly supporting the Gateway Pipeline. This secret deal became public two years later, resulting in the GTS office being boarded up. The Gitxsan protesters have been blockading the office 24/7 for nearly two months now. If this were a Band Office, the electorate could simply vote the crooks out of office. But that's not so easy with the GTS.

    If Brazeau really cared about corruption, he'd be focussing on where the real corruption lies. What are those evil Alberta oil companies really up to??? Brazeau is about bashing Band Offices and nothing else. He's part of the problem, not the solution.