Dear Pierre :
I sit with my three boys, planning the eldest’s upcoming sixth birthday. We’re talking about the clown who’s coming to put on a show, the birthday cake I’m making in the shape of the Millenium Falcon, all the presents he’ll receive. We look out the window at the hockey rink in the backyard being readied for when the cold weather comes. We live down the road from an almost new school. To me, in Canada, all children should have the chance to have these experiences : safe housing, special events to look forward to, access to recreational activities and a decent place to learn. How do we explain to our children that this isn’t the case? That in fact, there are such fundamental differences that it suggests a systemic discrimination?
We’ve heard a lot of rhetoric in the last few weeks concerning funding to Aboriginal communities, and I’d like to take this opportunity to ask some questions.
You had indicated a number of years ago, with respect to Aboriginal communities, that we need to engender the values of hard work, independence, and self-reliance. I would argue that this is true for any community, but we ask these communities, in particular, to succeed in the face of overwhelming obstacles. We invested $274,000 in public toilet facilities for the G8, and yet many people living in Attawapiskat today don’t have toilet facilities in their homes. We ask their children to learn in portables for years while the government invested $9.75 million in the University of Waterloo G8Centre expansion.
How is a taxpayer to understand the relative importance you place on funding priorities? Can you provide your constituents with clarity on what the investment in the G8 provided us with in the way of return on investment, similar to the statements your party has recently made with respect to the return on investment on reserves?
From another perspective, $133 million was provided for 308 MPs office budgets last year – this is in contrast to the $17.6 million dollars in federal funds that was provided to Attawapiskat in 2010/11, with an identified registered population of 1,768 (according to government websites). This is an investment of just under $10,000 per person – to put this in context, the Province of Ontario allocated $10,730 in education funding per non-native pupil in the 2010/11 fiscal year – and yet, this $10,000 per person is intended to provide not just for education, but also healthcare, social services, housing, economic development and so forth. If roughly half of the population in Attawapiskat is school-aged, even with the additional $4.4 million provided by the province, it’s not difficult (as a taxpayer) to begin to understand the tremendous challenges that this community is facing, particularly given the state of the current infrastructure to provide education, health and social services. All of us would agree that we want our governments and leadership – be they federal, provincial, municipal, or band councils – to be responsible and accountable for how money is spent and allocated in serving their communities.
Your party has instituted a third party manager in Attawapiskat – what are your expectations of what this will achieve? Similarly, what are your thoughts on what measures need to be in place to monitor MP spending? Do you think the Indian Act prescribing Ministerial approval for capital expenditures on reserves creates another level of red tape for these communities to create and maintain their infrastructure?
The June 2011 report from the Auditor General states that :
In our view, many of the problems facing First Nations go deeper than the existing programs’ lack of efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that structural impediments severely limit the delivery of public services to First Nations communities and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves. We have identified four such impediments:
- lack of clarity about service levels,
- lack of a legislative base,
- lack of an appropriate funding mechanism, and
- lack of organizations to support local service delivery.
The report focuses on the many recommendations from past Auditor reports which have not been acted on in a satisfactory manner by various federal government departments. These issues are not new, not created by any single party – but they are problems with solutions, and your party could be the one to make meaningful progress in addressing these problems in collaboration with the communities in question. Are you able to outline your party’s action plan to correct these findings and act on the AG recommendations?
There is no question that it is time for a fundamental paradigm shift in the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian government – requiring new ways of thinking, true collaboration, accountability on all sides, and authentic relationship building.
Regards and thank you in advance for your time,