Dear Minister Strahl,
I am writing to you today on behalf of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation to convey concerns about the transparency of band council activities and to recommend improvements.
Over the past several years, the most common concern the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has heard from band members is – “I asked my band council for financial information but they refused.”
When we ask if they spoke to their local Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) office about the problem, many respond - “I did, but they said to speak to my band council.”
Thus, they never receive the information. That’s not acceptable. Canada is a democracy and all politicians, no matter what their ethnicity, should have to disclose to taxpayers how public funds are spent.
In terms of band pay information, we believe your department has it partially right. As you know, your department’s rules are very clear – “Band councils are required to release to their membership audited financial statements, which include a schedule of salary, honoraria and travel for all elected and senior unelected band officials”
The problem is, when reserve members ask for the information, not only are the requests often denied, band members face retribution for speaking up. As you have probably heard, many band members indicate their reserves operate like mini dictatorships. Band councils often do not take kindly to those who question what is going on.
To alleviate the problem and to make the information available to all taxpayers, we recommend placing the salary details and audit documents for every band in the country on your department’s web site for all to see. By making the information fully transparent, it will be easier for band members to hold their elected officials accountable and for off-reserve taxpayers to see how the funds have been spent.
We understand that placing such information online will likely require changes to the Access to Information Act and fully support such a move.
In the mean time, to assist people on reserves with obtaining band council information, we have launched – www.ReserveTransparency.ca
The web site includes instructions for band members on how to obtain band council information from your department. This includes band council pay information. During discussions with your department staff, we were advised that if bands refuse to comply with your department’s band council pay disclosure law, your department will release the information to band residents who request it. We are pleased your department is prepared to stand behind the law.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter. We look forward to receiving your response.
Prairie Director – Canadian Taxpayers Federation