Minister cites non-reasons to walk away from the First Nations Transparency Act
On Friday the federal government announced that it would lift sanctions against First Nation communities that were not complying with the First Nations Transparency Act (FNTA).
The Act requires all First Nation bands to make their audited financial statements and chief salaries public. Until FNTA was enacted, First Nation governments were the only governments in Canada that did not have to make basic financial information public.
Further, with an increase in federal transfers to First Nations communities, this type of transparency and accountability is needed now more than ever. The federal government alone spends more than $10 billion annually on aboriginal issues and spending per First Nations person in Canada rose more than 880 per cent over the past 60 years. In comparison, spending per person on all Canadians rose by 387 per cent.
The legislation was created after calls from First Nation members across the country who were unable to obtain financial information from their elected leaders. For example, Phyllis Sutherland appeared before Parliament in 2012 testifying that “requests for information have also been ignored by trustees of [their] treaty land entitlement; and members are subjected to intimidation tactics such as fearmongering, public attacks, and attempts to destroy a person's credibility.”
Carolyn Bennett (pictured above), the new minister for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), appeared on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday to highlight the reasons why her government has decided to walk away from the transparency initiative. However, some of her statements on the program contradict the advice of her own department.
For example, the minister stated that “having to disclose the proprietary information of First Nation businesses doesn’t work for people” and that it puts them at a disadvantage when competing with other businesses.
However, INAC states on its website that “the legislation does not require businesses owned by the band to publish their own detailed financial statements. Nor are individual government business entities required to publish detailed financial statements.” In other words, band-owned businesses are not required to publish proprietary information, and the same rules that apply to businesses owned by all other levels of government in Canada are applied to First Nations under FNTA.
Secondly, the minister stated that one of the issues with FNTA is that it is unreasonable to tell First Nations communities that their audited financial statements “should [be] posted on a website for those communities who don’t have internet.” Makes sense. However, seems the minister’s department has taken this circumstance into consideration. On its website, INAC states that “in situations where a First Nation cannot post on their own website or a First Nation organization's website, they can meet the compliance requirements by asking AANDC to post their audited consolidated financial statements and a schedule of remuneration and expenses on their behalf.”
To recap, two of the primary reasons the minister cites to walk away from the transparency initiative have already been addressed.
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