Saskatoon

More consultation needed on First Nations funding proposal, FSIN chief says

It's a sweeping change that could eventually change the way First Nations fund everything from health care to education and housing.

New federal plan could change the way First Nations fund health care, education and housing

Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron says he would like to have more consultation before there are serious changes to the way First Nations across Canada receive funding from the government. (CBC News)

It's a sweeping change that could eventually change the way First Nations fund everything from health care to education and housing.

Under changes proposed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government this month, some First Nations will no longer have to fill out annual forms and tell the federal government how every grant dollar is being spent. 

Instead, the federal government says 100 First Nations across the country that are in good financial standing could qualify for 10-year grants to fund everything from housing programs to clean-water initiatives.

It's a move that was developed in consultation with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) chiefs. 

In Saskatchewan, it's being met with cautious optimism by one First Nations leader. 

Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott says changes to First Nations funding models will redefine the fiscal relationship between First Nations and the federal government. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"The bureaucrats are stalling so many things, from health to education to justice. The list goes on and on," said Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN).

But Cameron says he and other First Nations leaders weren't consulted and he needs to see the details of the plan before throwing his support behind such a major change. 

Philpott makes announcement at AFN assembly 

The new rules came from a report commissioned by the AFN. In a speech at the organization's general assembly earlier this month, Jane Philpott, the newly minted Minister of Indigenous Services, said the move is about redefining the fiscal relationship between the government and First Nations across the country. 

In that speech, she said that relationship "has not been based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation or partnership" and has been "patronizing, punitive and regressive."

The Liberals have stopped enforcing the Harper-era Conservative law requiring First Nations to post their financials publicly online in order to receive government cash. 

Instead, Philpott told the AFN the new model will mean First Nations who qualify for the 10-year grants will have to report to their own membership, not federal bureaucrats. 

Todd MacKay is the Prairie director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

Taxpayers federation cold on idea 

That change is not sitting well with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which strongly supported of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. 

"We believe they are starting at the wrong spot. All good governance is based on accountability and transparency and that's true on First Nations," said Todd MacKay, Prairie director with the federation. 

All good governance is based on accountability and transparency and that's true on First Nations.- Todd MacKay, Canadian Taxpayers Federation

MacKay points out that while the government has stopped enforcing the act, which was met with opposition from various First Nations and advocacy groups, many First Nations were happy to comply. 

He says getting rid of red tape is never a bad thing, but the fact the government wants to loosen reporting requirements is not sitting well. 

"For First Nations, just like any other communities, constantly filling out forms for bureaucrats probably isn't the best use of time or resources.," he said.

"We' ve always got to look for ways streamline that, but you have to start with transparency and accountability. The grassroots people in that community need to know what's going on with the money."

Cameron wants face-to-face with minister 

Cameron has sent a letter to Ottawa, asking for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the proposed changes. 

He says the FSIN was not involved in the initial discussions and that's a problem. He called the way it rolled out "disrepectful."

"Inclusion, having that voice at the table when legislation is being drafted or discussed — we have to have representation at these tables," Cameron said. 

Inclusion, having that voice at the table when legislation is being drafted or discussed — we have to have representation at these tables.- FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron

He said he would like to know about who would qualify and how the new reporting structure would work. He did, however, applaud Philpott for being open and listening to First Nations leadership. 

There is still no word on when the new policy will become law or whether or not more consultation will take place before it becomes the official policy of the federal government. 

now