The Attawapiskat audit reaction - Macleans.ca

The Attawapiskat audit reaction

Politics on TV: Politicians weigh in on the audit and its effect on #IdleNoMore

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Message of the day

“This audit release is just a smear campaign against Chief Spence.”

Questions not answered

  • Did the Department of Aboriginal Affairs have any objections to Attawapiskat hiring Chief Theresa Spence’s boyfriend as the co-manager?

The Attawapiskat Audit:

Power & Politics started off with chief correspondent Terry Milewski explaining the Deloitte & Touche audit that showed that that some 80 per cent of financial transactions in the band had insufficient or missing documentation, and that they can’t determine if millions of dollars were spent properly. Evan Solomon then spoke with an MP panel of Chris Alexander, Paul Dewar and Carolyn Bennett about the audit. Alexander said that audits are important and the results speak for themselves. Dewar said that he was looking forward to seeing what Chief Theresa Spence’s response to the audit was going to be, despite her spokesman having called it flawed (and the fact that Spence has had four months to respond and hasn’t). Bennett said that when she visited Attawapiskat, she didn’t see any signs of financial mismanagement and that the leak happened today as a means of distracting from the upcoming First Nations meeting with the Prime Minister.

On Power Play, Don Martin spoke with Ryerson University professor and #IdleNoMore spokesperson Pam Palmeter, who said that the audit isn’t damaging to Spence, and that it shows that there was an improvement in reporting under Spence’s leadership. She also said that one individual First Nation’s financial accounting is irrelevant to the #IdleNoMore movement, which has more to do with getting sections of the omnibus budget bills withdrawn. Palmater said that every year, Attawapiskat’s books are audited by the department and approved, and that people should look to the department if there are problems. Palmater called the release of the audit as part of a smear job.

Solomon hosted an On The Money panel with Carleton University professor Ian Lee and Palmeter about the Deloitte audit. Lee found the audit “devastating,” and said that the band broke their fiduciary responsibility by not keeping proper records. Lee also noted the Auditor General’s report on the increasing problems with the management and administration of funds for many First Nations bands. Palmeter said that the audit’s language has no specifics about what kinds of documents were missing, and that Attawapiskat wouldn’t get any funds from the department if their audits were insufficient. When asked about the co-management agreement with Spence’s boyfriend, Palmeter said that the department would have had to approve the decision.

Martin spoke with Norman Spector, former chief of staff to Brian Mulroney, and to Mark Milke from the Fraser Institute about the audit. Spector said that the department bears its share of responsibility, but that something is amiss, which will be righted with AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo and not with Spence. Spector said the right move by the Prime Minister is to make small, incremental changes that have significant impact. Milke said that Attawapiskat pays out $600,000 in political salaries for such a small community, and that those First Nations that have done well have done so in large part because they are able to lease their lands – a move in the omnibus budget bill that #IdleNoMore is protesting against.

When Martin put the question of whether the audit release was intended as a smear to his strategists panel, Goldy Hyder said that if the government released the audit next week when it was scheduled, they would have been accused of trying to hide something. Hyder added that the release has been a bit of a backfire for Spence, who is getting the attention to her reserve that she demanded. Robin Sears said that it shows the department isn’t able to manage the file with any degree of competence, and that they spend $350 million per year on outside consultants to do this kind of work.

On Power Play’s journalist panel of Mia Rabson and John Ibbitson, Ibbitson said that the audit will be a smoking gun for people who those who criticize the reserve system, as much as Attawapiskat is a smoking gun for those who say that First Nations communities are underfunded. He added that it bears asking what other municipality does as much as Attawapiskat has to for that little money. Rabson said that the problem is that Attawapiskat is not unique in its lack of bookkeeping, but it does provide ammunition for those who wonder why Spence is delivering ultimatums when she has problems managing her own community’s affairs. Rabson added that the optics of intervening in Aboriginal protests are politically difficult.

On P&P’s Power Panel, Chris Hall said that Chief Spence was sent a letter on August 28th about the results of the audit, and that she hasn’t responded to it, and that CMHC didn’t ensure that housing was properly inspected when money was disbursed. Ian Capstick said that Spence’s hunger strike should be separated from the broader #IdleNoMore movement, and that there is already a disconnect between the chiefs and the grassroots in the movement. Capstick added that the justice system will likely be needed to make advances to their cause. Alise Mills said that she doesn’t find the audit to be a red herring because it speaks to credibility, and that people are connecting Spence to the #IdleNoMore movement whether they like it or not. Rob Silver said that even if the audit was leaked to discredit Spence doesn’t mean that it’s not important, and that it reads like any other audit of a government bureaucracy gone wrong.

When the Power Panel looked at next week’s meeting between the Prime Minister and the AFN, Hall said that the government needs to show that they are serious about making changes, and that Atleo and the AFN needs to be able to prove that he is able to get results. Capstick said that there is a problem when so many expectations are heaped upon a single meeting, and that the meeting on Friday will likely be little more than a photo op and a restatement of principles. Mills disputed Capstick’s supposition and said that it wouldn’t be in Harper’s style to simply hold a photo op with no closed-door discussions. Silver said that this meeting will be symbolic of whether or not he cares, and that it may mean the next budget will be focused on First Nations.