Conservatives accused the federal Liberals of giving themselves too much “direct control” over the proposed national council for reconciliation, as the bill that would establish the council reached the House of Commons committee stage on Thursday.
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended Ottawa create the independent oversight body and task it with holding the government to account on the issue of reconciliation.
“I have to ask you why you’re comfortable with either actually having so much direct control or influence over this body that’s going to be tasked with holding your government to account,” asked Saskatchewan MP Gary Vidal.
“And even if you don’t have that direct control, the perception sure seems like you do.”
Under the structure proposed by Bill C-29, the reconciliation council would be established as a federally regulated not-for-profit corporation consisting of between nine and 13 directors.
The first slate of directors “are to be selected by the minister in collaboration with the transitional committee,” which has already been in operation, according to the bill’s text. The directors would subsequently be elected under a scheme invented by the first board.
Two-thirds of the council would have to Indigenous and it would have to include a director nominated by each of three national Indigenous organizations: the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.
System ensures independence, says minister
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said the question about the council’s independence was a “fair” one and acknowledged the “perception” of federal influence might exist, but he said the proposed system would ensure independence.
“In the appointment of the current [transitional] committee right now, essentially, I could have a call on it, but I haven’t,” Miller said.
“They have determined themselves their membership. After that, it’s the not-for-profit act that prevails.”
The TRC laid out the recommended structure of the council in its calls to action 53 through 56. The commission said the council would be tasked with monitoring, evaluating and reporting annually to Parliament and developing a multi-year action plan.
The Liberals budgeted $126.5 million for the proposed council in 2019.
The committee will study the bill before passing it back to the House of Commons to be read a third time. If it passes there, the bill will go to the Senate to repeat the process.
Conservatives previously questioned the proposed council’s independence when the bill was debated in the House.
“Although we will support a lot of what this bill is, there are serious amendments, serious discussion and serious overhaul that need to be considered,” said Tory MP Michelle Ferreri before the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Meanwhile, contacted earlier this week by CBC News, the AFN and ITK said they weren’t immediately able to comment. The MNC said in an emailed statement that it supports the bill.
“It is our understanding that the minister will only be appointing the inaugural board members,” the statement said.
“Once the not-for-profit is officially registered, the legislation (as currently written) dictates that directors are to be elected following an application process established by the board of directors, removing the ability of the minister to appoint board members.”