1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 148
Monday, March 25, 2013
The Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin, Acting Speaker
First Nations Financial Transparency Bill
Third Reading—Motion in Amendment Negatived—Vote Deferred
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Patterson, seconded by the Honourable Senator Wallace, for the third reading of Bill C-27, An Act to enhance the financial accountability and transparency of First Nations;
And on the motion in amendment of the Honourable Senator Dyck, seconded by the Honourable Senator Chaput, that Bill C-27 be not now read a third time but that it be read a third time this day six months hence.
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-27, the First Nations financial transparency act, and I would like to read into the record a letter that was received by the vice-chair of the committee, Senator Dyck.
The Squamish First Nation wrote to the chair and vice-chair of the committee and wanted to respond to comments made by a member of their First Nation at the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. Honourable senators, the remarks prove that more debate on this issue is required. We did not hear all sides of this debate, not to any satisfactory level, and thus I now read the submission made by the Squamish First Nation into the record as it was received after the hearings had ended. Honourable senators, it is my honour to read this letter into the record as I live very close to the Squamish nation.
Dear Senator White:
The purpose of this letter is to respond to the allegations raised by Ms. Beverly Brown during her testimony in front of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples on February 13, 2013.
Ms. Brown is a member of Squamish Nation and, during her testimony, made comments about this Nation which we strongly refute.
Before addressing Ms. Brown’s specific allegations, we feel it is important to highlight testimony provided before the Committee by Mr. Terry Goodtrack, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada, who noted: “…a truly transparent reporting regime must produce information that is meaningful to the intended audience, in this case Aboriginal citizens. This will require input and engagement from Aboriginal citizens as well as attention to issues like financial literacy…”
We feel that it is important to underscore this statement (a sentiment that was repeated by other witnesses), as we believe that many of the allegations raised by Ms. Brown are related to her lack of financial literacy, and her inability to understand the high quality of information provided by the Squamish Nation to our membership.
As a Nation, we view all questions from membership as important, and we take all concerns raised by membership seriously. We have responded to Ms. Brown on these issues on a number of occasions both in writing and at membership meetings, yet she continues to insist “I have asked the leadership directly and indirectly with no answers.” For the record, therefore, we would like to refute her statements.
Responsibility, Accountability and Transparency
In her testimony in front of the Committee, and in numerous emails and public statements, Ms. Brown has made a number of unsubstantiated claims, including the assertion that we are not a responsible, accountable or transparent government. This is simply untrue. We are a careful and responsible government. We carefully manage our financial and human resources and always make decisions in the interest of the collective. Further, we are committed to accountability and transparency, and to having the most informed First Nations membership in the country. As a result, we provide significant financial information to our membership on a regular basis.
For example, we hold 50-100 information meetings annually for our members, including meetings specifically focused on financial management.
We distribute our audited consolidated financial statements to our members every year. The statements, along with a comprehensive report on Nation activities are mailed to all adult members, on- and off-reserve. We hold Community Information Meetings regarding the financial statements on an annual basis, where we explain the statements and take questions from Membership. Most recently, two such meetings were held on March 19 and 21, 2012.
Further, we hold annual Community Information Sessions between all Squamish Nation Departments and Membership. The Squamish approach to accountability allows departments of the nation to engage membership one on one.
We respond in writing to questions posed in emails and at the Membership meetings, and share the questions and answers with all of our Membership through the distribution of Membership updates — to ensure that all members have the benefit of hearing directly from leadership.
Squamish Nation Audit
Ms. Brown has also requested a full audit by a neutral third party… “provided to each person on and off reserve…“. As noted earlier, we distribute financial information annually to all members on and off reserve. Further, we are pleased to note that not only are we audited on an annual basis by a neutral third party, but also, for decades, we have consistently received unqualified audit opinions on our financial statements by a neutral third party national accounting firm.
This means that the auditor feels that all accounting rules have been followed and the financial reports are accurate for all our operations and corporations. We would like to stress that the auditors are independent, and apply the highest standards of professional integrity, objectivity and technical excellence to the Squamish Nation Audit. The auditors provide recommendations to manage and mitigate risk and ensure necessary internal controls are in place to meet the highest standards of financial reporting.
Ms. Brown complains that we provide “…gross representations of finances that do not have enough detail to be meaningful and are so vague that give the illusion of transparency while hiding secrets in plain view.” We completely reject this assertion, as the neutral third party auditors have found that we are accurate and follow all accounting rules. We do acknowledge that some individuals may have trouble with financial literacy, and therefore any member who wishes to come into the Squamish Nation office to review their statement in detail (and ask questions) are welcome to do so.
Careful Planning and Budgeting
The Squamish Nation Administration and businesses are being run efficiently and carefully. Our planning and budgeting process begins with priorities identified by membership, followed by policies approved by Chiefs and Council to address these priorities. On an annual basis, each department is required to develop a program plan and budget, which is reviewed by the Finance department and approved by Chiefs and Council. Each department is required to manage their budget carefully, and monthly reviews are undertaken by the Department Heads and Finance to ensure that departments are on track. As noted earlier, we then undergo a thorough independent financial audit on an annual basis, and the results are presented to membership.
Salaries, Honoraria and Travel
With respect to the issue of Salaries, honoraria and travel for Chiefs and Council, the Nation has released a range of salaries or honoraria that are paid to Squamish Nation elected officials and senior staff… which were distributed to membership in October 2012, according to regular practice….
We are prohibited by law to disclose the specific salaries of individuals, as this is personal information that can only be released with the consent of those individuals. Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is also prohibited by law to make such a disclosure without consent.
Squamish Nation Corporations
With respect to Ms. Brown’s numerous assertions regarding Squamish Nation Corporations, we regularly report on these, and Squamish Nation members benefit from the profits of these corporations. The corporations in which the Squamish Nation has an interest are set out in the Squamish Nation 2011 Volume 2: Annual Financial Report, distributed to all members, both on- and off-reserve.
The Squamish Nation provides membership with more than 150 programs and services in areas such as: Ayas Men Men Child and Family Services, Education, Employment and Training, Health Services, Housing and Capital Projects, Registry… Recreation, Community Operations and Band Manager Services.
Many of these service areas receive very little or no outside funding and therefore the Nation funds 100 per cent of the program costs from own source revenue. Several of our businesses may not make large profits, but they create employment for many nation members in addition to making a contribution to our own source revenue.
More than 60 per cent of every dollar we spend is generated by our own source revenue, including leasing and our businesses. This means the Nation puts approximately $25 million per year of its own source revenue into community programs for the benefit of all members. In addition, we provide every man, woman and child with $1000 per year as a distribution of the revenues generated through our businesses and economic development initiatives….
Ms. Brown asserts that she has asked for salaries for those who act as Squamish Nation corporate trustees without receiving a response. However, she has been informed both verbally and in writing that Squamish Nation corporate trustees do not receive remuneration of any kind, nor are they able to personally benefit from their role as trustee.
Finally, we would also like to comment on Bill C-27. The Act as drafted applies standards to First Nation governments that surpass those for elected officials in many other jurisdictions. The Squamish Nation Chiefs and Council oppose the unilateral imposition of such a law by the federal government. The federal government has not consulted with the Squamish Nation and this is a serious violation of our rights and jurisdiction.
However, we must point out that the Squamish Nation has not waited for such a law to be enacted. As noted earlier, we are committed to having the most informed membership in the country and exceed requirements related to financial disclosure.