The Tory government introduced a bill in mid-November that would require financial transparency from First Nations governments across the country.
Bill C-27, currently tabled in the House of Commons, would require First Nations to publish the salaries and expenses of their elected leaders as well as regular audited financial statements for all Canadians to see.
Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas says the legislation will ensure the taxpayers have accountability from all elected officials in Canada—something that most governments in Canada are accustomed to at some level. Albas is correct. With billions of dollars at stake, or even if it were only one dollar, Indian band members, taxpayers have a right to know.
Here in the Nicola Valley, which is home to several Indian bands, including the beleaguered Lower Nicola Indian Band (LNIB), the bill might find a warm welcome.
For others, like Tk'emlups Indian Band Chief Shane Gottfriedson, the bill is "paternalistic" and "regressive." While the bands should and do have autonomy, this argument is hard to swallow. How can accountability be regressive?
Bill C-27 came about shortly after the Canadian Taxpayers Federation began an expose of the salaries of some Indian band chiefs, some of which surpassed those of provincial premiers and MLAs—MLAs who served larger constituencies than the chiefs in question.
Through the Access to Information Act, the CTF revealed that 600 chiefs made the off reserve equivalent of over $100,000 annually from 2008-09. B.C. had 63 First Nations politicians with pay greater than $100,000.
For years, LNIB members have dealt with accusations of some serious offences alleged to have been committed by their elected, or unelected depending how you look at it, officials.
At the centre of it all: financial accountability.
Much of the Band's current problems stem back to February 2009, when three LNIB councillors were impeached for allegedly misappropriating more than $1 million of the Band's funds during then-Chief Arthur Dick's administration from 2004-2007. Then Chief Don Moses (2007-2010) alleged, after establishing a fact-finding committee (Elders Investigative Committee), that the councillors misused the funds and demanded they be repaid to the Band. The impeachments were challenged, and eventually a federal judge found that even though there was evidence of misappropriation, it was inconclusive.
Since then, there has been ongoing disputes between band members, council, Chief Victor York (now impeached), the elders committees (acting as a watchdog), resulting in a series of protests and lockouts, impeachments and suspensions—almost all of which have also been contested as invalid.
The three councillors in question ended up back on council following the October 2010 election despite the findings by another elders committee that they were ineligible to sit on council, or run again for 10 years. Court Justice John O'Keefe has upheld the election results but ordered an investigation into the appeal of their election.
The federal courts are taking their time with the disputes they have dealt with, but it seems they don't want to be the deciding factor and would rather let the Band deal with its own problems.
Had the three accused councillors' expenses been out in the open for all to see, perhaps the last three years of instability would never have happened.
Bill C-27 might be just what is needed to prevent this from happening again at LNIB and at other bands in Canada. As well, it will bring First Nations transparency in line with the accountability already required by most other governments in the country.