Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Trudeau vows overhaul of First Nations disclosure bill

Liberal leader says he would consult aboriginal leaders on a new law

By Peter O'Neil, Vancouver Sun

A Liberal government would scrap the new federal legislation that led to the recent revelation that the chief of a small Lower Mainland had band received income last year totalling close to $1 million, according to leader Justin Trudeau.

 

He made the pledge in a Vancouver Sun interview even though he later told a media scrum that he’s glad the public learned about Kwikwetlem First Nation Chief Ron Giesbrecht’s lavish remuneration.

“You can have good outcomes out of bad things,” he told reporters last week in explaining why he welcomed the disclosure of Giesbrecht’s windfall last year.

The bill, brought in over the objections of aboriginal leaders and opposition parties, reflected a “lack of respect for First Nations” and was “used as a weapon” against the Harper government’s critics.

He said the Conservatives have been selective in demanding greater salary disclosure, focusing on perceived Tory opponents like First Nations and organized labour leaders while keeping secret the salaries of his top political staff.

However, in his Sun interview he hesitated when asked whether a Liberal government would keep or scrap the law.

He began a response to a yes-or-no question on Liberal policy by saying “whether we keep this legislation …” but quickly corrected himself, saying: “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.”

Neither he nor a party official would specifically commit to a law that requires chiefs and councillors to make their remuneration available not just to band members but Canadians at large.

Trudeau, asked if the B.C. chief should donate the windfall to his community, said: “I think that’s very much a question that would be appropriate to ask the people within that band.”

Trudeau’s high-profile recruit in the new riding of Vancouver Granville recently has criticized the federal law, saying bands shouldn’t be forced by Ottawa to disclose salaries to those outside their communities.

“The ultimate accountability must be to our people and this certainly goes beyond that,” said Jody Wilson-Raybould, speaking in her capacity as B.C. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations.

She added Friday in an email: “Of course salaries/remuneration should be disclosed to community members, and by virtue of that disclosure it is public, as the band members can do what they please with the information received.”

The National Post reported Thursday that Isadore Day, chief of the 1,300-member Serpent River First Nation, has complained to the AFN that Raybould-Wilson is in a conflict by accepting the Liberal nomination while promising to step down from her AFN post only if she wins the seat.

She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On other issues:

Trudeau, who is opposed to the Northern Gateway oilsands pipeline to Kitimat and has vowed to block it if he becomes prime minister, said he’s more open to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion to Burnaby.

But he said the proponent still needs to obtain “social licence” from the public and First Nations, regardless of what the National Energy Board rules in the review process currently underway.

New Democratic Party leader Tom Mulcair has said he’d shut down the review and replace it with a tougher process. Mulcair has argued that the process has no credibility because the NEB, unlike in the Northern Gateway review, isn’t allowing full cross-examination of witnesses.

Trudeau wouldn’t go that far, but said if the NEB review is still continuing if he becomes prime minister he’d consider forcing the board to allow cross-examination.

“Absolutely I would consider that. I think it’s really important that the next government gets it right on energy.”

• He said a Liberal government would increase the number of immigrants in the family reunification class, which means Canada would get a greater number of parents and grandparents who will pay relatively few taxes while being a greater burden on the taxpayer in areas such as health care.

He criticized the Conservatives, saying they portray the family reunification program as a drag on the economy.

Liberals have “always understood immigrants who come to this country are not just workers, they’re nation-builders. Bringing over families, building a community, having grandparents there for child care, having strong communities, is part of the appeal that Canada’s going to have as we try to draw in the best and brightest from around the world.”

Former Canadian senior diplomat Martin Collacott, who regularly criticizes federal immigration policy in Fraser Institute publications, said bringing in parents and grandparents represents a “huge” net cost to taxpayers.

While Trudeau’s policy may win support in immigrant communities, he could face a broader backlash “if significant portions of the population become aware of just how much it taxpayer money he’s prepared to spend in order to get a few more votes,” Collacott said Friday.

*Trudeau said a new Liberal government couldn’t pledge at this point to re-introduce the $5 billion Kelowna Accord for First Nations development, or the national child care plan, both brought in by the Liberal government of Paul Martin.

He noted that Martin unveiled those policies before the 2006 election at a time when Canada was enjoying huge federal budget surplus.

• On whether critics are correct in suggesting he doesn’t have the experience or intellectual heft to be prime minister: “I don’t worry too much about answering their question. I focus on doing. I was raised by a man who, you know, nobody questioned his intellect. I spent the years between 13 and 25 sitting around the kitchen table and dinner table with him talking about global issues, talking about values, talking about how to build a better world, talking about engaged citizenship, history, talking about movies, talking about just about anything.

“I have no insecurities when it comes to my own intellectual capacities and I’m not worried about proving anything. I’m worried about getting the job done.”

*On whether he could imagine replicating his father’s success in Trudeaumania, when the elder Trudeau won a national majority government in 1968 and took most B.C. seats.

“I don’t even know how well he did (in B.C.) in ’68. We’re very much focused on the present and future.”

• On whether he’d like to distance himself from Marc “The Prince of Pot” Emery, who is being released from a U.S. prison and could be back in Canada as early as Tuesday. Emery wants to campaign for Trudeau due to the Liberal position in favour of legalizing marijuana, and his wife Jodie Emery wants to run for the Liberals.

“I’m much more focused on economic opportunities for Canada, rather than the criminal justice system and issues around marijuana. But certainly if people want to tell their friends to vote for the Liberal party because we’re going to be offering a better government that’s going to respect the law and keep our kids safe, then by all means.

• On Althia Raj’s ebook on Trudeau and quoting two B.C. friends saying he wasn’t quite ready to be prime minister.

“If you’re going to ask someone whether I’m ready to be a leader … ask some of my caucus colleagues who have been through a number of different leaders over the past few years. Ask my snowboarding buddies if I’m a good snowboarder, don’t ask them if I’m going to be a good prime minister.”

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

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