Politics

First Nations bands have until midnight to submit 2014-15 financial data or risk funding loss

​First Nations bands that have not filed their financial statements for 2014-15 by Wednesday at midnight will risk having federal funding for non-essential services cut beginning Sept. 1, warns Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.

98% of bands complied with the Financial Transparency Act last year

The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation led by Chief Allan Adam is in a battle with the federal government over a new law that went into effect last year. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

​First Nations bands that have not filed their financial statements for 2014-15 by Wednesday at midnight will risk having federal funding for non-essential services cut beginning Sept. 1, warns Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt.

Under a new law which came into effect one year ago, First Nations have to submit to the Canadian government their audited financial statements for the past fiscal year, including the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors.

While 98 per cent of bands complied with the First Nations Financial Transparency Act last year, CBC News reported Monday that the federal government has taken eight bands to court in a bid to force them to comply. Four other bands are said to be co-operating with the government to meet the requirements.

"Let me be clear, our government will take action, according to the provisions of the law, against First Nation governments that do not follow the law," Valcourt said in a written statement on Tuesday. "Those First Nation band councils which fail to comply by the deadline will receive several formal reminders."

"Beginning Sept. 1, 2015, bands that have yet to comply with the law will see funding for non-essential services withheld. Further actions may include seeking court orders to compel compliance."

Withholding federal funds for non-essential services could impact First Nations bands that rely on government support programs to help them meet the costs of delivering services. The salaries of chiefs and councillors, according to the government, which in part can derive from federal funding, are also considered a non-essential service.

The federal government will not give First Nations bands an additional 120 days to post their financial data like it did last year when the new law came into effect.

The vast majority of First Nation Chiefs receive salaries that are fair and reasonable.- The Assembly of First Nations

"Unlike last year, no additional extension will be provided before sanctions are applied. I have directed that the sanctions not target essential services that support First Nation members," Valcourt said. 

Last year's disclosures revealed in part that Ron Giesbrecht, chief of the Kwikwetlem First Nation in B.C., earned nearly $1 million last year. That amount included a one-time $800,000 bonus which came as a result of a land deal with the B.C. government.

The Assembly of First Nations blamed the federal government and the media for focusing on the high salaries of a few chiefs. 

"Canadians are not hearing about the five chiefs that are receiving no salary in their elected positions," said the Assembly of First Nations in a written statement Dec 4, 2014.

"Canadians are not hearing about those economically self-sufficient First Nations like Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta whose chief and council are paid entirely by their own-source revenues and not using funds from the government of Canada."

"The vast majority of First Nation chiefs receive salaries that are fair and reasonable," said the AFN when it published an analysis of First Nations Chiefs' salaries showing the median salary across the country was just under $65,000, and that 88 per cent of chiefs made under $100,000. 

Threat 'fans the flames of division'

Minister Valcourt in his statement on Tuesday also took a swipe at both opposition leaders, accusing them of taking a position against accountability and transparency.

"It is shameful that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he would scrap this law and deny these members the right to access basic information about their community finances, a right that is awarded to every other Canadian," Valcourt said.

"Similar to the Liberal leader, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has shown his party does not believe they need to be accountable to taxpayers by refusing to pay ‎back the $2.7 million of taxpayer dollars they owe for use of their satellite offices outside Ottawa."

In an phone interview with CBC News, NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic Niki Ashton said the threat to withhold funding was not only "unacceptable" but also "fans the flames of division with indigenous peoples."

Ashton said if the New Democrats form government in the next election they would "either try to repeal or amend the Act" but they would consult with First Nations beforehand.

Liberal Aboriginal Affairs critic Carolyn Bennett said the minister's threat to pull funding was "inappropriate" given "this government's inability to foster a working relationship with First Nations."

"A Liberal government would review all the laws that have been unilaterally imposed on Aboriginal Peoples by this government," Bennett told CBC News in a phone interview.

The number of bands that have submitted their financial data for 2014-15 will not be known for a day or two after Wednesday's deadline.

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