I have always been a strong believer in accountability and transparency. It is for this reason that I have published an annual accountability report that discloses my total public spending, sponsored travel and other details to help ensure citizens can have this information easily available to hold me to account as it is not always easily located online. In fact I believe strongly that wages, benefits and spending of all democratically elected officials should be publicly disclosed and easily accessible. It is for these reasons that in the last Parliament I also voted in favor of the First Nations Financial Transparency Act so that band members could also access similar information for their elected Chief and council.
I raise the First Nations Financial Transparency Act as the Liberal Government has announced that provisions for not complying with the financial transparency act will no longer be enforced, thus in effect neutering the act for those Bands who do not provide fiscal transparency to band members. In my view increased fiscal transparency in first nation’s communities is important and I will provide a few examples on why that it is. In BC some members of the Shuswap First Nation were shocked to discover wages in excess of hundreds of thousands was being paid without the full knowledge of the community. This information was only revealed because of the financial transparency act and ultimately was information that was useful to band members in band elections. It was also the financial transparency act that revealed a First Nations Chief from the Kwikwetlem First Nation received over $914,000 in wages for 2013/2014 fiscal period. Once again this information was not widely known to the majority of the membership in that community prior to the financial transparency act.
Most important is that the two examples I provided were generally exceptions as the vast majority of Chiefs and council earn wages and benefits that are entirely reasonable for what is an increasingly complex and challenging position. The fact that many First Nations communities, estimated to be as high as ninety percent, complied with the legislation is a positive indicator for transparency and accountability so that all band members can be better informed. It is for these reasons that I am disappointed that the Liberal Government has decided to gut this particular legislation, more so as “open government” has been a stated goal of our new Liberal Prime Minister. To date these changes to First Nation’s fiscal transparency have been done through administrative changes and not a vote in the House of Commons. In the event there is a vote I will vote for fiscal accountability that includes ensuring wages and benefits paid to public office holders is publicly available to all citizens including first nations in an open and transparent manner. I welcome your thoughts on this subject.
Before I close I would like to take a moment to wish all citizens a very merry Christmas and happy holidays. It is an honour to be one of the elected representatives for this region and I would like to thank the many citizens who take the time to share questions, concerns and ideas with me on a weekly basis. Your time and feedback is always appreciated. I can be reached at Dan.Albas@parl.gc.ca or toll free at 1-800-665-8711.
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Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.