Transparency is good. Particularly when it comes to the public trust.
We have little choice when it comes to paying taxes: pay or go to jail. And the demand is we report, in full, our income, spending, earnings and deductions.
But those demands change – become murky – when they are placed on Ottawa.
Transparency becomes a really cool buzzword with a moving definition.
We want transparency in government, insist those seeking election. We want to be accountable, say governments, councils and public administrators.
Yet, when we shine the mirror from the taxpayers’ level of accountability and transparency at government, it takes on a bit of a distorted, funhouse reflection.
Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “nation-to-nation” relationship with Canada’s First Nations is supposed to take a progressive step in the right direction in fostering a new level of cooperation and trust with indigenous peoples residing inside Canada’s borders. A laudable goal.
The first step in the process, however, was a December announcement that the federal government was reducing the veracity of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act. The legislation is intended to provide basic financial data to rank-and-file First Nations band members, like those in Morley who were able to read a report in the Oct. 29 Eagle about Stoney Nakoda Nation (Wesley, Bearspaw and Chiniki band) finances.
The report detailed how Stoney Nation received approximately $107 million in revenue for the nation of approximately 5,200 people, and spent $124 million – that would be about $23,800 per person spread equally. But the disparity in the distribution of revenue was made clear in the public Stoney financials as chiefs and band councillors took home anywhere from $300,000-ish in salaries and expenses to $36,000 at the lower end.
That kind of information, obviously, exposes band leaders to the inevitable criticism from those who aren’t faring as well in their care. Yet, airing this laundry can be the best way to confront, and solve, problems.
Removing that knowledge, and those levers, from the equation impedes the process leading to fair and transparent leadership, particularly in the “self-governing” realm of First Nations.
What it does is convey the message that getting re-elected, in Ottawa and on First Nations, is more important than ensuring those doing the voting have all the details to place an informed ballot.
It drives a wedge between the electorate and those seeking election.
Lifting sanctions and stopping court actions against First Nations communities that aren’t complying with the transparency act, sets the process back by removing the very transparency public officials like our prime minister claim to covet.
For Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to show they want to respect First Nations, they should ensure grassroots people – not just tribal councils – are included intimately in this new nation-to-nation relationship.