Appeared in the Winnipeg Sun on March 4, 2011
Basic transparency should be something every Canadian expects of their government, including First Nations in Manitoba.
This simple truism is lost on some Manitoba MPs.
Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin, Churchill MP Niki Ashton, and Winnipeg South Centre MP Anita Neville voted against a private members’ bill requiring band chief and councillors disclose their salaries to their own band memberships at a minimum. Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux abstained.
Bill C-575, The First Nations Financial Transparency Act, passed second reading in Parliament late Wednesday by a vote of 151-128.
This bill should transcend party loyalties and command the support of politicians of all stripes. We expect salary disclosure from politicians at all levels. So why would we expect anything different for First Nation leadership? The salaries for band leadership come from taxpayer money, so the public has a right to compel disclosure.
Pat Martin, who often sides with mainstream aboriginal organizations against grassroots aboriginals, repeated the same old, easily refutable refrain in opposing the bill.
Martin said the bill assumes “First Nations are corrupt.” This is obviously not the case as we require all non-aboriginal politicians to disclose their salaries and we do not assume they are all corrupt.
Martin also comically remarked, “We have no right to impose how First Nations use their resources,” forgetting this bill does not aim to remove the power to First Nation communities to set the salaries of their leaders.
Then again, some MPs have problems disclosing all their expenses, but two wrongs don’t make a right.
Even if non-aboriginal politicians did not disclose their salaries and benefits, this would not mean First Nation politicians should not.
It is also irrelevant that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) is leading the charge in promoting reserve salary transparency.
The CTF is not pulling this from the air. This campaign is driven by the complaints of many First Nation members, so it is morally irresponsible to ignore them. The CTF is merely the microphone for the voice of the marginalized and oppressed. The organization set up a website, ReserveTransparency.ca, that has done more to assist band members in achieving transparency than anything many politicians have ever done.
MPs who would oppose this bill should know they are siding with leaders who do not wish to be transparent or accountable to their own communities. If the average chief and councillor is making around $30,000 and most are not making anywhere close to some of these exorbitant salaries, then this bill, if anything, would clear the air once and for all. Why wouldn’t the chiefs and the Assembly of First Nation want that?
Anita Neville has become well-known for siding against any meaningful reform that will help average First Nations. In the past, Pat Martin unfairly criticized Leona Freed, a courageous First Nation woman who championed the cause of the First Nation Accountability Coalition, as it promoted the First Nations Governance Act — a piece of legislation that would have brought basic financial accountability and electoral reform to many First Nations.
It’s time all Manitoba MPs stopped siding with well-resourced aboriginal organizations against their own people and took a stand for transparency.