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Harper's Hypocrites Could Learn a Lesson from First Nations

For everything that the Conservatives have done to this country -- from lying about the costs of the F-35 program, to Bev Oda inserting the "not" that defunded KAIROS -- it's quite hypocritical of Harper's government to ask the First Nations for fiscal transparency on National Aboriginal Day.

In mid-June, Canadians celebrated National Aboriginal Day, a day when we come together to celebrate the contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people to this country we call home. It is a chance to speak about our accomplishments, reflect on how far we have come, and think about how much further we still need to go.

With that in mind I spent part of my National Aboriginal Day in the House of Commons voting. We had only one vote on one bill, the second reading of bill C-27: "First Nations Fiscal Transparency Act." That may sound like a bad joke, but that is what the Conservatives chose to vote on that day.

I am not opposed to the concept of transparency, nor are the vast majority of First Nations leaders. But this bill is being imposed on First Nations without any consultation and runs against the Conservative own promises at the Crown First Nations Gathering to work together with First Nations. It does nothing to increase accountability of First Nations governments to their people and does nothing to help communities to become more accountable.

This bill will also gives the aboriginal affairs minister more power over First Nations communities, moving us further away from true self-government. It gives the minister the ability to withhold any funds to or terminate any funding agreement with a First Nation that doesn't meet their requirements. This is a harsh punishment that does nothing to help those First Nations citizens who depend on those funding arrangements for the of providing safe water, for keeping their schools operating and for paying social assistance for those who need it.

The great irony of this bill is that when passed, it will apply transparency standards that are greater than those for elected officials in many other jurisdictions. This is coming from the government that has done everything it can to avoid being transparent and accountable to Canadians.

In their 2006 election platform, the Conservatives promised to bring in a new era of transparency and accountability. They promised to: "Clean up the procurement of government contracts," "ensure truth in budgeting," and "strengthen auditing and accountability within departments."

Six years after making those promises, we can see just how they have faired. They promised to clean up government procurement, yet they deliberately kept Canadians in the dark about the true cost of the F-35 program. In April, the auditor general reported that the government misled Parliament over the cost of the F-35 program. According to his report, the Conservatives hid over $10 billion of the estimated cost of the jets from Parliament. That doesn't sound very accountable to me.

How about "ensuring truth in budgeting"? Well, before the last election we saw a censure motion that found them in contempt of Parliament for their refusal to disclose accurate costs of crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and the F-35s again. Now after the last election, they are refusing to give Parliament the details of job cuts to the civil service. Sadly we are not seeing very much "truth" in the budgeting there.

Finally, we have the promise to "Strengthen auditing and accountability within departments." Here we can point to the F-35s and the public service cuts again for this promise, but there are even more examples. We have the G8 Legacy Fund, which taught us that to the Conservatives, gazebos in Muskoka are an integral part of Canada's border defense. We can also point to Minister Oda and her insertion of the now famous "not" that defunded KAIROS. In all of these cases, not a single minister was punished.

With their record, I wonder why they think that they can start dictating to First Nations communities about transparency and accountability with any credibility. There are many chiefs and councils all across Canada that could teach these Conservatives a lot about how to be accountable and transparent to their electorate.

We have seen how the Conservatives' approach transparency when it applies to them. When they are expected to be transparent and accountable, they do everything they can to avoid it. They have refused to meet the most basic standards of accountability and transparency, yet they asked us, on National Aboriginal Day, to impose transparency standards on First Nations that are greater than the ones the Conservatives themselves refuse to meet. That is hypocritical and deeply insulting, but typical of the Harper Conservatives.

This government is in no position to speak to others about being accountable and wag their fingers judgmentally. When they learn how to be properly accountable to all Canadians, maybe then they can teach some lesson. But until then, maybe they should keep their word and start to work with Aboriginal communities. You never know; just like in the past they might even learn a thing or two from the First Peoples of this land.

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