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Nora Loreto's blog

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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media. She writes regularly for blogs and magazines, and wrote a chapter in Canada After Harper, released by Lorimer Publishers in August 2015.

Faux transparency and the First Nations Financial Transparency Act

| August 8, 2014
Image: Wikimedia Commons

White people are obsessed with other peoples' finances. We love comparing ourselves to others. We want the newest thing. We assume our strange ways are normal and project our anxieties onto others.

For average white people, this can end with depression, feelings of inadequacy or an overconsumption of The Real Housewives ™.

When this collective illness is centrally located in parliament, it usually expresses itself in bizarre, even racist policies. The federal government is obsessed with how The Other lives. This, combined with a past that includes genocide, guides which policies they implement.

Enter: the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

In effect since March 2013, the Act forces financial statements of band councils to be made public, ostensibly to be more transparent. As of last week, most documents had been posted.

But, is it more transparent? Or is it yet another example of the Crown imposing ridiculous policies and standards on First Nations communities?

The relationship between the Crown and band councils was supposed to be that of nations working together, equally. Over the years, what's evolved is a paternal attitude from Ottawa that treats Indigenous communities as wards of the state. When generalized across hundreds of communities, the feds have maintained their parental role and enshrined it in policy.

As a colonial power, the Canadian government tries to control on-reserve life as much as it can and Harper, apparently, wasn't satisfied with just having financial documents sent in annually. Instead, they've opted to post the information they receive every year, online, leaving it for racists and vultures alike, scanning the horizon for stories of scandal.

First Nations communities should have a right to the privacy of their financial documents. No one outside of the community itself has a right to examine these documents, no matter how many white people bleat about "their" money.

Money that goes to First Nations to (barely) satisfy treaty obligations was bargained years ago. Canada, as the agent of the Crown, has an obligation to disburse this money. Consider it your dues for living off the avails of stolen land.

And, there are many reasons for why band councils need to have some privacy over their finances. Hayden King points out that financial statements can reveal a lot about business transactions that, strategically, outsiders (or competing companies) shouldn't have access to. Band councils aren't publicly traded companies and they need to remain transparent only to their own communities.

While these policies are important to oppose for all the reasons I've already highlighted, it's worth noting that this bend towards "transparency" is part of a broader trend.

Unions, community and environmental organizations are all facing threats from the feds under the guise of "transparency." Many progressive organizations are being audited for political activity and may lose charitable status. Bill 377 would be a bureaucratic nightmare for unions to become compliant with.

But, as similar as the attacks are, the character of the FNFTA is more sinister. Where Oxfam is an NGO that operates within Canada as a Canadian organization, band councils are different. Their right to self-determination needs to be respected in a way that is far different than unions and not-for-profit organizations.

The FNFTA has more to do with appeasing right-wing elements who are unlikely to ever view First Nations leaders as competent money managers than it does with transparency. It has more to do with the fact that post-colonial Canada prefers to continue oppression through bureaucratic measures, unnecessary policy and requires the help of right-wing trolls to turn non-issues into battles.

In fact, it was the Canadian Taxpayers Federation that spearheaded the campaign for this legislation.

Setting aside the fact that, as a taxpayer, I don't recall ever implicitly or explicitly permitting this faux federation to represent me, the CTF might just be The Worst. Or, at least, it's an inhabitant of the planet The Worst with other slimy groups, like the Fraser Institute, the Conservative Party of Canada and whatever secret being they all worship and feed to maintain their power and influence.

(Haha, right, capitalism).

In an email, the CTF begs me to email the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Bernard Valcourt to tell him to stand his ground with this legislation, not back down to the pressure coming from some saying that this legislation is unnecessary and unfair. They also ask for a donation so that the CTF can win "future battles" like this one.

The CTF email focused on one chief, whose salary was close to $1 million*, and they inflated his wages to exaggerate the effect that not paying income tax has. To date, I've never received an email from the CTF complaining about how many billions of dollars that Canada has overpaid for fighter jets, or that the current Governor General made $600,000 from the University of Waterloo (a university that has a board that is supposed to remain accountable to Ontarians) for the year after he left his post.

I've never even received an email from the CTF that Canada and provincial governments must spend to clean up the negative externalities caused by mining, fracking, oil transportation or drilling! Can't wait to see that one…

Such an email will never come. Right-wing organizations are too focused on The Other to look at The Man and complain that money, indeed, is being wasted.

I think back to that illness that white people have, that makes us project our deepest anxieties on other people in strange and oppressive ways.

If our illnesses hurt others more than they hurt ourselves, the first step towards finding a cure is admitting we have a problem. Of course, getting Stephen Harper to realize that he has a problem is no small task. But it’s my task, and all Canadians, fed up with the steady stream of policies that seek to further oppress, control and undermine The Other.


*His salary was actually less than $100,000, but the CTF included money that he was given as a result of a land-holding deal.

Image: Wikimedia Commons



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