Media outlets lined up like kids on Christmas morning when the Transparency Act's first public reporting came due. Newspapers across Canada analyzed the online information about the salaries, bonuses, honorariums and travel expenses received by the leaders of First Nations communities. What the Act reveals may surprise many.
The First Nations Financial Transparency Act is a recent example of the Conservative government's relationship with Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Its legislated purpose is "to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations." The Act requires First Nations to publish online every dollar of remuneration and reimbursement received by its leaders, including not only in their governmental roles, but also from any role they may have in any band-owned businesses.
Also significant are the powers the federal government has allotted itself should a First Nation fail or opt not to disclose this information to the government's satisfaction. The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AANDC) may "withhold moneys payable as a grant or contribution to the First Nation" or terminate any agreement for funding.
In other words: a Minister in Ottawa, almost certainly not an Aboriginal person and most likely elected by a predominantly non-Aboriginal population in an urban riding, can end funding for education services, health care provisions, economic development or any other agreement as the Minister sees fit.
The AANDC website suggests the Act was developed at the request of First Nations members. But First Nations across Canada have criticized the Act's overbreadth and paternalistic approach. Several have refused to comply with it and have taken the federal government to court claiming that it violates their Constitutional rights, fails to respect their position as governments and degrades their ability to be economically competitive by forcing financial disclosure from private business ventures.
The online publishing of salaries of First Nations governments has purpose if we assume that the information will expose otherwise hidden impropriety at the public expense. This is a thinly veiled articulation of an excuse non-Aboriginal Canada relies on to explain why Aboriginal communities remain mired in poverty, poor health outcomes and family breakdown; that somehow it is the fault of these communities for misusing otherwise ample dollars rather than chronic under underfunding or ongoing distrust by...