Liberal Senator Nick Sibbeston wanted to see political officials acknowledge the voice of the Idle No More movement, so he asked Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan to delay the First Nations Financial Transparency Act for six months.
When that didn’t happen, he and two other Liberal senators walked out of a commitee meeting. A week later, Sibbeston made a similar request of the Senate Standing Committee. However, his motion to table the bill was defeated.
“A lot of people say they support Aboriginal people and their rights, and opportunities come along every so often to show support and make changes, but people have difficulty and often don’t step up,” said Sibbeston, former government leader of the Northwest Territories.
Sibbeston was joined by senators Lillian Dyck and Sandra Lovelace-Nicholas in walking out of the Senate’s Aboriginal committee meeting on Feb. 6 where Duncan was testifying on behalf of Bill C-27, which requires First Nations to make their finances and chief and council’s salaries public. All three senators are Aboriginal.
Lovelace-Nicholas, from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, says while she supports the need for stronger accountability by First Nations, she is opposed to how the act was developed.
“The minister and government always claims there was consultation and we know for a fact there isn’t consultation with the new laws that are being brought in, the new legislation,” she said. “I think the bands should be consulted as they draw up the legislation, not after the fact.”
“Consultation has been a big issue the last couple of months. With all the agitation … the government should learn the necessity and need to have proper consultation,” said Sibbeston, who has participated in Idle No More rallies.
That lack of consultation when it came to developing Bill C-27 coupled with the Aboriginal senators’ frustration with Duncan led to the group leaving the meeting.
“On a point of principle and as a sign of support for the First Nations we walked out because we were not happy with the minister’s point of view. It seemed as if nothing had changed in (Duncan),” said Sibbeston.
A week later, Sibbeston asked his Senate colleagues to table further discussion on the bill for a few weeks until legal advice had been received. Issues of Bill C-27’s legalities were raised by Sawridge First Nations Chief Roland Twinn, who appeared before the Senate’s Aboriginal committee on Feb. 13.
“Is there a change, is there a spirit of openness because of all the activities of Idle No More? … I think if we can show that, that will help a lot and I think persuade First Nations in our country that at least maybe the government doesn’t (listen) but the Senate is a place of sober second thought. That we can provide that and give them some comfort that there is a new spirit of change and that we’re willing to take the time. So it’s with that – it’s nothing more than that – so if we can defer the bill for a few weeks on that basis – to have that examination,” said Sibbeston.
Dyck, who serves as the committee’s deputy chair and is a member of the Gordon First Nation, supported Sibbeston’s motion noting that a recent media report indicated that bills passed at the House of Commons level were not vetted for Constitutional compatibility. She also said that receiving legal advice now would prevent court challenges in the future.
“Today we have received some very interesting and valuable information from our witness. But at some point, why do we have to force (the First Nations) to go to court in order to make those decisions?” asked Dyck.
Liberal Senator Jim Munson, who is not Aboriginal, also voted in favour of tabling further discussion on the bill.
Lovelace-Nicholas, who was sick, missed the Feb. 13 session. However, the outcome of the motion, although disappointing, was not a surprise.
“There’s more Conservatives than Liberal senators. They have majority so actually whatever we say or what we do, I don’t think it matters because they’re going to pass (Bill C-27) anyway,” she said.