The deadline is fast approaching for Canada's First Nations officials to become more transparent.
When news broke five years ago that some band councillors were making more money than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation demanded action and accountability.
Under the Financial Transparency Act, which passed in 2013, First Nations are required to post the financial statements, salaries, and chiefs’ expenses online — and they have until just midnight Tuesday to do it.
- First Nations divided on new Financial Transparency Act
- First Nation chiefs' salaries due to be posted under act
David Crate, chief of Fisher River Cree Nation, said his staff has already been posting financial information on the reserve's website for the last eight years.
“The bill itself I think it’s good because it sets out requirements which will support the work that we’ve done locally in our community,” Crate said at an annual gathering of all of Manitoba's 63 chiefs. “[It] basically just supports … the requirement for reporting to our members.”
While Crate said he supports the new bill, he also doesn't think it's necessary.
"I don't think we require government to do that, I think you know we'll do our work," he said. "You know [we’ll] set it up and get it approved by our members – that's the way it should be."
First Nation Chief Betsy Kennedy said her financial records are already available at the band office, but not yet online.
"Well it's up to the community members to do that," said Kennedy. "If it's the communities wishes, I will do that."
The Assembly of First Nations came out in opposition to the bill, but the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Ottawa's new rules to make First Nations officials more transparent is long overdue.
"We are pretty ecstatic as an organization we started pushing for it back in 2009," said Colin Craig, prairie director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation,
Colin Craig said all politicians need to be transparent and accountable.
Craig said he has heard stories of band members asking for financials and being refused or even bullied.
"We certainly have heard from people living on reserves over the years that they have tried to find out how much their politicians are making and have been refused," said Craig. "There have been all kinds of excuses we have heard, and even some sad stories of people being bullied for poking up their heads and asking questions."
Craig said the new legislation also gives members of the public a chance to access the information anonymously.
Only 20 of more than 600 First Nations have had financial statements posted online thus far.
Those First Nations officials who refuse to comply could face a court order or see funding withheld.
First Nations Financial Transparency Act: Excerpt
A.10. Should a First Nation not publish their financial information, a First Nation member, any citizen or the Minister may apply to a superior court to obtain an order to require publication.
The Act provides the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development with the following options:
- The Minister may require the Council of the affected First Nation to develop an appropriate action plan, ensuring the release of the financial information in a timely and organized fashion.
- The Minister may also withhold funding moneys payable as a grant or contribution to the First Nation under an agreement. Examples of funding moneys payable as a grant or contribution include the Aboriginal Business Development Program, Community Economic Opportunities Program, and Acquisition and Construction of Infrastructure Assets related to recreation. These withheld funds would be released immediately upon compliance of the legislation.
- Finally, the Minister may terminate active grant and contribution agreements should a First Nation fail to comply with the legislation or refuse to provide AANDC with its audited consolidated financial statements.