Ottawa to scrap First Nations Governance Act

Local MP Robert Nault said he’s pleased with the direction in which Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) is moving despite the new minister’s announcement to scrap the controversial First Nations Governance Act that was introduced when Nault held that portfolio.
“I think that the announcement was a very positive one in the sense of moving forward with the principles of governance,” Nault said in a phone interview Monday.
New Indian Affairs minister Andy Mitchell stated last week when speaking to a native studies class at the University of Alberta that he would not seek to reinstate the First Nations Governance Act, or Bill C-7.
The bill did not pass through the House of Commons before Parliament was prorogued back in November.
“In terms of C-7, it’s my intent not to re-introduce that bill into Parliament, nor to ask that it be reinstated when Parliament resumes,” Mitchell said.
“Rather, and I’ve talked to the national chief [Phil Fontaine], I want to form an engagement process with First Nations and aboriginal Canadians to talk about governance and I want to develop a process in partnership with First Nations and aboriginal Canadians.
“So an engagement process, not that I’m going to design but one that will be designed together, so there will be ownership by all people in the process,” Mitchell added.
He did note the ministry would move to implement the Specific Claims Resolution Act, to reinstate the proposed First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act, and to introduce two new self-government agreements for specific First Nations in British Columbia and the Northwest Territory.
Nault said while the FNGA was dead, the goals of that bill still were being pursued.
“The objective is to bring in modern institutions and the tools of good governance, and I think that’s the direction that was announced by Minister Mitchell and it’s one I’m very supportive of,” he noted.
“The agenda of governance is very much alive.”
“I’m fully committed to the principles that underlie initiatives in terms of governance,” Mitchell said. “The whole issues of transparency, of accountability, of effectiveness and efficiency, they’re all critical issues we need to deal with in partnerships with First Nations.”
The FNGA proposed changes to leadership selection, administration of government, financial management, and accountability of native bands.
Meanwhile, local First Nation leaders were pleased with the decision to scrap the controversial legislation.
“That’s the best idea that Martin has put forth for First Nations thus far,” Rainy River First Nations Chief Al Hunter said of rumours a few weeks ago that Prime Minister Paul Martin did not wish to follow through with the bill.
“It was bound to fail.”
“I never supported the First Nations Governance Act,” said Couchiching Chief Chuck McPherson. “The ultimate goal was to turn us into municipalities.”
One of the most notable problems with the FNGA was its focus on fiscal accountability, added Chief McPherson.
“If you look at our contribution agreements with the Canadian government, the issue of accountability is covered again and covered again and covered again,” he argued.
“It was always nonsensical to me in that regard,” he remarked.
Chief Hunter said First Nations people were not consulted in the drafting of the bill and that the act failed to respect existing treaties. “Its major flaw was that native people weren’t asked what they thought about it,” he noted.
Chief Hunter added he was looking forward to building a meaningful new relationship with Ottawa, “government to government.”
The Specific Claims Resolution Act, which received royal assent in November, will create a new independent claims body to facilitate the settlement of specific claims across the country.
“Specific claims is extremely important, one that governments have attempted to bring forward since the ’50s,” Nault said.
Mitchell also said he would seek to reinstate the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Institutions Initiative, which is meant to provide First Nations with access to capital markets available to other governments.
It would mean the creation of a finance authority, a tax commission, a financial management board, and a statistical institute.
“It requires First Nations to enter into the finance authority, to develop a financial administration code,” Nault said. “That’s part of what C-7 was all about, so I’m very pleased with the direction that Minister Mitchell is going in.”
A new throne speech will be delivered in the House of Commons on Monday (Feb. 2), when the Liberal government will outline its main objectives for the next session of Parliament.