OTTAWA – The Conservative government is slamming Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for his vow to repeal the First Nations salary disclosure law if he’s elected.
The law, which came into effect last month, requires First Nations leaders to publicly disclose their salaries, among other financial information. Trudeau said this week he wants to repeal the law and replace it with something more “respectful” of First Nations communities.
“I’m not very impressed and not really surprised. In addition to his own poor track record on transparency, this is an affront to what we heard,” Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in an interview.
“This is about providing basic financial information to community members, and, in the greater sense, to taxpayers. It’s something that government officials in other governments – provincial and federal and municipal – are subject to. The sense we got from First Nations community members is that they’d like access to the same information,” said Rickford, former parliamentary secretary to the minister of aboriginal affairs.
“He apparently doesn’t agree with that.”
Rickford also referenced a controversy from more than a year ago surrounding speaking fees Trudeau accepted as an MP.
“Justin’s had a little trouble of his own around, you know, the monies that he’s earned as a Parliamentarian,” Rickford said.
“I’m not suggesting there’s anything more other some poor understanding of what transparency and accountability is really all about.”
In a Vancouver Sun interview on Monday, Trudeau said he’d replace the law, which requires basic First Nations financial information including salaries to be posted online.
“Actually, I wouldn’t keep the legislation in place. I would work with First Nations to make sure that a proper accountability act that would have disclosed any excesses we see, but is done in a way that is respectful of the First Nation communities,” Trudeau told the newspaper.
The Assembly of First Nations, which represents chiefs across the country, said it supports transparency but does not support the law, saying it does not address reciprocal accountability with the federal government – such as equal spending.
The disclosure law revealed Chief Ron Giesbrecht of B.C.’S Kwikwetlem First Nation earned almost $1 million in compensation last year.
Toronto MP Carolyn Bennett, the Liberals’ aboriginal affairs critic, said her party wants to work with First Nations on a new law, potentially creating a First Nations auditor-general.
“(The Conservatives) had not even consulted to see what First Nations themselves would require to meet the shared goal of transparency and accountability,” she said.
She accused the Conservatives of hypocrisy when it comes to disclosure, noting Trudeau introduced his own private member’s bill before Parliament broke for the summer to make information about Parliament and government more accessible to Canadians by revamping the country’s access to information regime.
“We don’t know Nigel Wright’s severance package, right? This is a double standard that this government’s putting out there, in terms of failing on every aspect of transparency and accountability, and we want to work with First Nations to get a really great system that works for them, but also gives them the resources to be able to do it properly,” she said.
Rickford called the Wright comparison, “pretty desperate.”
“We’re talking about elected officials,” he said.
The NDP, which also opposed the First Nations disclosure bill, said the Conservatives imposed the law without working with First Nations.
But an NDP spokesperson said the NDP, if it forms government, would consult First Nations on how to proceed with the bill “before making shoot-from-the-hip declarations” as to repealing it.
© Shaw Media, 2014