By The Canadian Press
YELLOWKNIFE – A political leader in the Northwest Territories says there are concerns over the federal government’s new law requiring the salaries of First Nations chiefs be posted online.
Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus, who is also the Assembly of First Nations’ regional chief for the Northwest Territories, says his people are not opposed to the concept of accountability and transparency.
However, he says the problem is that the federal government’s new legislation is “an imposition” on First Nations’ governments.
The federal government’s legislation required First Nations to submit their financial statements by Tuesday.
However, by Wednesday evening, the website where the public is supposed to be able to access that information had none from any of the 22 First Nations in the Northwest Territories.
Late last week, Bernard Valcourt, minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, issued a release reminding First Nations of the requirements and saying chiefs and councillors “are encouraged to submit the documents as soon as possible.”
Valcourt also noted First Nations were already required to produce annual consolidated financial statements as part of their funding agreements with the federal government; only the requirement to publish them to the Internet is new.
But Erasmus said the new rule “does not support good governance.”
He said in the Northwest Territories, bands have followed their own financial standards, adding that information such as salaries has been shared at community, regional and national meetings.
“The chiefs are committed to being accountable to their people, not to the federal government or the public,” he said. “The funds we receive from Canada are not taxpayers’ money, they are Indian consolidated funds through the treasury board based on our treaty relationship with the Crown.
“The way that the bill is designed puts First Nations financial entities … at a disadvantage because the information requested by AANDC could be potentially sensitive and detrimental to their future business capacities.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation had been pushing for the salaries to be made public since 2009.
Colin Craig, prairie director of the CTF, said people were frustrated by the money being spent on reserves and then not being disclosed.