More crime from those elected and paid to serve you. And no this is not some article on the media-generated and Conservative-generated myth of First Nations govt lack of accountability etc
Winnipeg Free Press – PRINT EDITION
First Nations spending shell game
A long-standing shell game at the federal Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Department has shifted scads of cash out of infrastructure spending to shore up budgets for First Nations social programs. This is ironic — Ottawa has repeatedly hammered bands for moving federal money earmarked for one purpose, to spend in other underfunded areas, such as housing.
That has made it all too easy for some critics to claim bands can’t be trusted to manage their money. And now Ottawa must account for similar behaviour. But the revelation, contained in government documents, also casts a troubling light on the Harper government’s insistence it is spending a lot more money to keep water clean and build new schools on reserves.
The internal documents, filed as part of a child-welfare funding grievance before the human rights tribunal, makes clear the department’s inability to meet the rising demand on services and programs. The social programs that benefitted from the cash-skimming cannot keep pace with a rising population and the effect of inflationary pressures. This is a hangover of a two per cent cap on the department’s budget imposed in 1996.
The Harper government has paid a lot of lip service in recent years to improving the deplorable state of education, housing and water and sewer infrastructure in those communities, trotting out spending-hike announcements that now appear to have been part of the department’s budgetary musical chairs.
It is a risky game. Internal department documents for years have warned Ottawa of the risks in cutting costs on the aboriginal file. First Nations leaders have galvanized support across Canada in their bid to see federal funding for schools brought to par with provincial funding for public schools. First Nations students finish high school at about half the rate of students in the rest of Canada, and the Harper government has said improving the academic achievement of aboriginal children is a priority.
Yet the 2013 document indicates that Aboriginal Affairs shunted more than a half-billion dollars over six years out of its spending for infrastructure — schools and water/sewer projects — to prop up underfunded social programs, including education, social assistance and child and family services.
The effect of the budgetary sleight of hand is that none of the funding envelopes is secure, undermining any long-term planning by First Nations chiefs and councils. It lends credence to the leaders’ cries that Ottawa cannot be trusted. When they demanded that the proposed First Nations education act be matched by funding hikes, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt promised $1.9 billion more would be spent, kicking in only after the 2015 election. The draft legislation was rejected.
The revelations chip away at the fragile trust between the communities and the federal government. It is further demoralizing to residents on those reserves, many in northern Manitoba, who send their children to mouldy or cramped classrooms, or live without sewer hook-up and under boil-water orders, which are necessary to avoid getting sick.
The shifting of funds occurred even as the federal Tories pledged new money for building schools and sewer and water projects, largely triggered by the economic stimulus packages post-2008. What precisely happened to that cash?
That is something the Office of the Auditor General should unravel. Canadians have had a tough time reconciling the $11 billion spent, $8 billion through Aboriginal Affairs, on programs and services with the meagre progress made on reserves in education, health and general social conditions. The disconnect has spun fevered blame-games between those who harp about widespread mismanagement by bands, and First Nations governments that point to a bloated, wasteful bureaucracy within Aboriginal Affairs.
The truth is not so simplistic. The auditor general can help sort it out by tracking the trail of infrastructure money in, around and out of Mr. Valcourt’s department.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2014 0