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Plenty of NWT opposition to fed's new transparency act
Chief says financial statements will be posted, eventually

by John McFadden
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 4, 2014

NORTHWEST TERRITORIES
Aboriginal leaders in the NWT say they are opposed to the federal government's new First Nations Financial Transparency Act, but admit that sooner or later they will have to comply with it.

Roy Fabian, chief of the K'atlodeeche First Nation on the Hay River Reserve, said the band will get around to posting financial statements, including his salary, but that doesn't mean they agree with the legislation which officially took effect last week.

"We already do financial statements that are public and we have nothing to hide," he said. "This is the feds trying to make First Nations people look bad. It's prejudiced."

He added his band will not challenge the act, in part, because its federal funding could depend on it.

But he said that doesn't mean K'atlodeeche First Nation has to agree with it.

"Our money is tight to begin with. Now we have to pay more just to comply with this act," he said. "There was never a problem here but the Conservatives would have you believe we can't manage our money properly and that's why they are doing this. We should be able to, and have been handling our finances and our financial transparency on our own.

"Just like with treaty negotiations, they're taking an unconstitutional approach to this. It has riled us up, but we know it's a fight we likely can't win," Fabian said.

He said the band expects to have the information posted and be in compliance with the act sometime after their next meeting Aug. 10.

Ndilo Chief Ernest Betsina wasn't overly concerned about the new legislation..

"I'm on holidays. I don't know if the information has been posted," he said July 26 just hours after the act became law.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus said believes the act is just another example of the Harper Government's "us versus them" mentality with it comes to how it deals with aboriginal governments.

"This should be a government to government agreement.

"It's anything but," Erasmus said.

He said there is no basis for the legislation.

Question of accountability

"We're not accountable to them," he said. "We're accountable to our people. If someone wants aboriginals financial information in the North, they only have to call the band office and they will be provided with it. This hasn't been a problem in the North. The feds are creating an issue where there isn't one."

He said the latest transparent audit process was approved by chiefs when they met at their latest Dene National Assembly in mid-June in Fort Smith.

"We are already transparent," said Erasmus. "The tone of this legislation suggests that we aren't.

The feds are always talking about how they want their relationship with First Nations leaders and people to be a partnership. But, this approach shows they are not sincere."

Erasmus added part of the act requiring aboriginal corporations provide financial information is also problematic.

"That means aboriginal companies would be forced to divulge information that could theoretically put them at a disadvantage with their non-aboriginal competitors," he said.

Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, Bernard Valcourt, said the legislation empowers aboriginal community members.

"All Canadians deserve transparency and accountability from their elected officials," he said. "Aboriginal leaders were the only group of politicians in Canada who were not forced to provide that transparency prior to this act coming into effect."

Valcourt said when it comes to aboriginal corporations, the legislation does not force them to release information which would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

"Public companies, like those trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange for instance, must publish their consolidated financial information," Valcourt said. "They are not forced to release details that could give their competitors an advantage. The act is consistent with that process."

He said part of the reason for the legislation is that his department had been approached by First Nations members who were demanding more transparency from their elected officials.

Valcourt said the government has a number of options if band councils don't comply with the act, ranging from withholding government funding to aboriginal governments to issuing court orders demanding they comply.

"I am optimistic there will be 100 per cent compliance, he said. "The band leaders are law-abiding citizens. Many bands already do publish their financial statements but many don't. The act makes the rules fair for everyone.

"Who in Canada is against elected officials being accountable?" he asked.

Valcourt said aboriginal bands have had 120 days to prepare for the act to take effect.

He wouldn't say exactly when the government may start to take action against individual bands that have not complied.

Valcourt said if aboriginal people don't like what they see once the financial statements are published, they can voice their displeasure at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, Dennis Bevington, the MP for the Western Arctic, said the NDP opposed the legislation from the outset.

"I was on the standing committee that debated the legislation last winter and I felt the government's justification for it was very weak," he said. "We heard from individuals who had an ax to grind with their own band. The bigger picture was never presented. Groups representing more than one band were never heard from."

He called the act "paternalistic and heavy-handed."

Bevington said legislation such as the transparency act should be discussed government to government.

"This is no way to deal with aboriginal people and their leadership. Laws like this one should be enacted by individual bands not the federal government," he said. "This legislation is just more "red meat" for the Conservatives as the party appeals to its base."

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