A Question Period exchange this week (Nov. 21-25, 2016) involving Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod on financial transparency by first nations.
Cathy McLeod (Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo): Mr. Speaker, as of this month, 88% of B.C. first nations have filed financial disclosures, because they recognize that empowering their members is the right thing to do, and that means giving them access to information.
Since the Liberals stopped enforcing the act, many more are falling very far behind in their filings, including the Semiahmoo, Popkum, and Skatin. How can the minister defend her disregard for grassroots members, and why will she not start empowering community members and enforce the law?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs: Mr. Speaker, once again I remind the member that the Kelowna Accord’s collaborative approach led to a framework for accountability, which that party’s members tore up. Transparency and accountability will only be improved by working in true partnership with first nations. What the member fails to understand is that top-down approaches do not work. Frankly, since her law was put in place, more first nations, on principle, have objected to reporting. This is not working, and therefore we have to work together to empower those community members she is talking about to be able to be—
Cathy McLeod, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo: Mr. Speaker, if empowering first nations is like Bill S-3, where they did not even bother to talk to the chief and defendant, that is a very poor example. Band members are having to take their leadership to court to get basic financial information. On this side of the House, we are with people like Charmaine Stick, who the minister is forcing to go to court for this information. The Liberals should be ashamed. Why is the minister forcing Charmaine to go to court instead showing some leadership and enforcing the law?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs: Mr. Speaker, I think the member fails to understand that there are certain things that are within the purview of my department in terms of indigenous affairs. There are other things that are actually own-source revenues of the band. What that community member is going to court to find are things that we cannot, as a department, determine, because it is not our money. It is the band’s money. Therefore, the member needs to go through the regular process to get that information.
Candice Bergen, Portage-Lisgar (Conservative): Mr. Speaker, the problem is that every time the Liberals have a chance to empower grassroots first nation people, they do the opposite and give a pass to some unaccountable, all-powerful chiefs.
Liberals opposed guaranteeing women on reserve the right to their own home after divorce. Why? It is because some chiefs did not like it. Now, because some chiefs do not like it, they are blocking the ability of first nations people to hold their leaders to account on what they spend. Why are the Liberals more focused on protecting the chiefs than on empowering first nations grassroots people?
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs: Mr. Speaker, we take all allegations of fraud very seriously. However, in the particular situation the member raises, the audit was stopped in July 2015, when the department sought a legal opinion on a jurisdiction matter.
Just as I have explained, it was determined that the department does not have jurisdiction to investigate this matter. As a result, the audit was not completed, and there is no report.
In accordance with the department’s usual practice, all complainants were informed of this outcome.