Thursday, September 18, 2014
Text Size

It’s Ottawa’s turn to be transparent

Ghislain Picard

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Ghislain Picard is national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

The first deadline for reporting under the federal government’s First Nations Financial Transparency Act has recently passed and, predictably, media and conservative commentators are seizing on a small handful of outliers at the high end of the salary range to howl about perceived accountability problems. While this is to be expected – it makes for good headlines – it is a disservice to the general public and frankly irresponsible.


There are more than 3,000 elected First Nations officials in Canada, earning an average annual salary, according to a 2010 analysis, of $36,845. We are seeing no headlines about the Chief of Tyendinaga in Ontario making $33,930 a year or the three councillors for Siska First Nation in B.C. taking home an average of just over $6,000 or the Samahquam First Nation Chief in B.C. receiving $4,400 and on and on.

Unfortunately, whenever context is provided First Nations are accused of trying to sidestep the problem. But context is important because most Canadians get their information about First Nations from the media. If all they’re exposed to are the exceptions, then they become the rule in the public mind. Where there are issues, let’s deal with them, but let’s not exaggerate or misrepresent the problem.

Chiefs and councillors in First Nations communities have difficult, complex and time-consuming jobs. They serve as leader, community planner, economist, personal counsellor, proposal writer, form filler and troubleshooter. It’s long hours with no guarantee of a job come election time and no pension plan. We invite anyone to shadow a chief through a typical day to witness the demands of the job.

The task of our elected officials is made more onerous by federal red tape. First Nations file more than 160 financial reports a year, yet the Auditor-General has found that these reports are essentially useless. They do not assess the results of spending on federal programs or initiatives, or answer basic questions like: “Is this program actually helping the community?”

This is why the Assembly of First Nations opposed the Transparency Act. To be clear: We do not oppose accountability or transparency. We fully support accountability by First Nations governments to their citizens. Many First Nations have been making their financial information available to their citizens for decades. Accountability, though, must be a two-way street: The government must account for its spending and the results (or lack thereof) of that spending.

The AFN was well ahead of government on this issue. In 2005, the AFN spearheaded an “Accountability for Results” initiative with the Government of Canada – the Treasury Board, Indian Affairs and the Auditor-General – aimed at establishing greater transparency and accountability in relationships between First Nations governments and their citizens, and those with Canada. This initiative was making tremendous progress … until it was killed by a newly elected Conservative government. Had it been allowed to progress, we would already have an accountability regime in place.

The real problem is the inability of the federal government, particularly Aboriginal Affairs, to account for its own spending or the results of that spending. This department spends more than $8-billion every year. The fallacy that this is neatly and efficiently divided up among First Nations – who then mismanage or misspend it – is a misconception that many in government seem willing to let stand. The reality is that a bloated, inefficient and unaccountable bureaucracy is the source of the problem.

Don’t take our word for it. Read the reports by successive auditors-general. The federal government knows as much. It recently released its own “report card” on the performance of Aboriginal Affairs – and they released it very quietly. This is not surprising, as it’s a report card you’d be embarrassed to show your parents, but interesting from a government that lectures First Nations about transparency.

First Nations want to tackle the real accountability issue and get a more transparent and responsible approach in place for all our benefit. Now that the government has imposed its flawed and limited legislation, perhaps we can move on to a more comprehensive approach.

And if there’s one potential positive outcome of this legislation, now that the government has imposed it, we assume they will no longer have an excuse to continue their chronic underfunding of vital First Nations programs and services in areas such as education, housing, infrastructure and others. We look forward to that conversation as well.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

Education & Training

Blast from the past: FP archive

When is Consultation, Consultation?

Ovide Mercredi

National Chief – AFN

During a Treaty Roundtable meeting of the Alberta Chiefs, I took note of a federal government document outlining their strategy to define and ultimately impose their own form of self-government. Read more...

Letting go of residential schools

by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people. Read more...


obidiah picture

ANALYSIS - Bill Gallagher

gallagher picture

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit


First Nations Cultural Interpreter PM – 02 Riding Mountain National Park Seasonal Indeterminate

(May to October) From $54,543 to $58,764

Closing Sept. 19, 2014

Read More

Regional Media Officer– Temp (Until Nov 2015) –F/T Position

Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition / NDP Research Office

Location:131 Queen Street, Suite 10-02, Ottawa, ON


Communicate regularly with regional media outlets (community newspapers, radio stations, student media, ethnic media, etc.) to propose ideas for interviews and opinion content Read more...

Canadian Chamber of Commerce Aboriginal Workforce Report

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a report that highlights initiatives to improve the workforce participation of Aboriginal peoples. 

Opportunity Found: Improving the Participation of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada’s Workforce (December 2013)  

click image to download report

Tue Sep 23 @ 3:00PM - 04:15PM
FNHMA National Conference 2014
Sun Oct 05 @ 9:00AM - 05:00PM
INIHKD & Manitoba NEAHR Conference 2014


September 2014
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 1 2 3 4

Current Video

RIP Percy Tuesday


Thanks to Althea Guiboche for allowing The First Perspective to share her video taken at the Manitowapow book launch at McNally Robinson. 

Percey sings Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and people join in to harmonize. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): The Washington Redskins