First Nations accountability bill fast-tracked
OTTAWA—The federal Conservative government is pushing through more First Nations’ legislation that does not have the support of chiefs—despite growing tension between Ottawa and native leaders.
Aboriginal Affairs minister John Duncan said yesterday his party is forcing a vote to shut down debate on a financial transparency bill that will require First Nations’ chiefs and councillors to publish their salaries and expenses.
Various forms of the bill have been around for three years, stalled by electoral cycles and opposition from the Assembly of First Nations.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to take this measure,” Duncan told a news conference.
“Continued obstruction by the NDP and Liberals has made it clear that this is the only way this important bill will be passed,” he argued.
Duncan said that while the chiefs’ organization may not support the legislation, it is in keeping with resolutions passed by the AFN and is widely-favoured by grassroots First Nations.
But it’s only one of several pieces of legislation that the Conservatives have pushed aggressively through the Commons over the objections of the AFN, damaging relations between Conservative and First Nations’ leaders.
“There has been a loss of momentum and sense of frustration [that] is being felt by the First Nation leadership,” AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper last month.
“This is exacerbated by the federal government’s broader legislative agenda.”
Duncan responded to the letter yesterday, saying Atleo has unrealistic expectations for quick progress on plans made by Ottawa and First Nations last January to work together on a number of fronts.
The AFN already has pulled its support for a joint process on reforming First Nations’ education and now is warning about lack of consultation and progress on comprehensive claims, treaty implementation, governance, economic development, and fiscal relations.
But in an interview, Duncan said he will persevere whether the AFN backs him or not, saying there are plenty of chiefs who are interested in co-operation.
NDP aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said the talks won’t get back on track until the federal government renounces the old ways of telling First Nations how things should be done.
“It’s up to the federal government to determine leadership on this because they’re the ones that actually hold the hammer,” Crowder said in an interview.
“They’re the ones that keep appealing court decisions and so on and so on. So they’re the ones that keep perpetuating this adversarial approach,” she charged.
The act before Parliament stems from research from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which showed that more than 200 band politicians collect a higher salary than a provincial premier.
More than 50 of them earn more than the prime minister.