Justin Trudeau First Nations transparency comments draw fire from Tories

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt accused Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau of giving First Nations leaders who oppose new transparency rules "an easy way out."

Liberals would go back to the drawing board in consultation with First Nations

Justin Trudeau came under fire from the Conservatives on Monday for comments he made in B.C. about a Liberal government not keeping the First Nations Financial Transparency Act in place. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt accused Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau of giving First Nations leaders who oppose new transparency rules "an easy way out."

Valcourt issued an official statement on Monday following remarks Trudeau made in British Columbia about a Liberal government not keeping the First Nations Financial Transparency Act in place.

The new legislation, which came into effect at the end of July, requires that First Nations bands post online their audited financial statements for the last fiscal year, including the salaries and expenses of their chiefs and councillors.

First Nations have 120 days since the law came into effect to comply with the new rules or risk losing government funding.

The disclosures have revealed 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 land deal with the B.C. government.

"We put this legislation in place to empower community members and ensure that they are informed of their community’s financial situation.

"The fact that Justin Trudeau would give opponents of transparency and accountability an easy way out is an affront to the community members and taxpayers this act is intended to serve," Valcourt said.

The federal law has been opposed by the Assembly of First Nations including B.C. Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is running for Trudeau's Liberals in the next federal election.

Raybould, as B.C. Regional Chief for the AFN, opposed the bill when it was being studied in Parliament. She is now facing calls from within her own ranks to resign her post with the AFN while she campaigns for the Liberals.

Valcourt accused Trudeau of siding with chiefs like Raybould "who would keep this basic financial information hidden from their communities and from Canadian taxpayers."

National Chief for the AFN Ghislain Picard, who has also come out against the legislation, described the government's relationship with First Nations as "a dialogue of the deaf."

"The government says one thing, we say something else and there's no meeting point," Picard said in an interview on CBC Radio's The House Saturday.

The New Democrats also voted against the government's bill on First Nations financial transparency.

Liberals want 'more' transparency

Liberal aboriginal affairs critic Carolyn Bennett defended the party's position saying the Liberals voted against the government's bill because it was "flawed from the beginning."

"This bill was designed without the input of First Nations… and we've got to start again," Bennett said during a phone interview with CBC News.

Bennett said a Liberal government would replace the First Nations Financial Transparency Act with something better but do it in consultation with First Nations.

"We need to hear all of the good ideas about how we go about and achieve these shared goals of transparency and accountability without being prescriptive but understanding that First Nations know what the challenges are and will come up the solutions."

The Liberal aboriginal affairs critic said "it's ridiculous" for anyone to suggest that Trudeau's Liberals want less accountability.

"We want more transparency and accountability for all of us." 

Bennett pointed to Trudeau's actions as proof that he is in favour of more transparency and accountability.

In June, Trudeau tabled his first private member's bill as a leader to make Parliament more transparent.

Although it has been an onerous task, Trudeau-led Liberals also pledged to post their travel and hospitality expenses online.

Trudeau also expelled from his caucus every Liberal senator, proposing the prime minister do the same in an effort to render the Senate non-partisan. He suggested an "open, transparent, non-partisan process" that would see all senators sit as Independents.

Bennet also noted the Liberals had signed years earlier the Kelowna Accord, an agreement with First Nations, that promoted accountability through the creation of an auditor general for aboriginal communities.

Last week, the Conservatives accused Trudeau of supporting terrorists, more than three years after he visited a mosque that was later declared by the U.S. to be one of nine places worldwide where "known al-Qaeda members were recruited, facilitated or trained" more than a decade earlier.

Trudeau was not available for comment.


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