Indigenous Affairs To Give Documents To PBO Despite Claims They Did Not Exist

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OTTAWA — Despite having originally denied their existence, the federal Indigenous Affairs Department said Wednesday it will give the parliamentary budget office a collection of documents relevant to First Nations education.

The office requested the material in a letter on Sept. 29 after learning from the federal auditor general it was both available and useful for an ongoing analysis.

carolyn bennett
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett speaks at the Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec on Aug. 3, 2016. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)

The PBO is currently reviewing federal spending allotted for First Nations education.

"Prior to that letter ... it was mentioned that the department had searched for that information but was ... not able to find the information requested," said Jean-Denis Frechette, the parliamentary budget officer.

"It was surprising to me, because we had talked to the auditor general and the auditor, a couple of years ago, asked for the same information and at that time the information was on the record."

The issue resulted from a miscommunication, a spokesperson for Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said Wednesday.

'There was a miscommunication'

"There was a miscommunication between PBO and our department on what information they are looking for," Carolyn Campbell said.

Department officials have since clarified this problem, she added, noting they are in the process of turning over all relevant information.

"Certainly, we want to be transparent," Campbell said. "There was not an attempt to hide information."

Frechette said Wednesday his office has been in regular contact with Indigenous Affairs for many months.

"Normally, we try to be very, very clear on what we ask for ... and we also establish a timeline," he said.

"Now they've been caught, because we've had access to several of the documents, so they're changing their story."
— NDP MP Charlie Angus

Frechette said he plans to follow up on Friday if he does not hear back from the government.

Government transparency needs to be paramount, NDP indigenous affairs critic Charlie Angus said Wednesday, noting First Nations education has been a "complete failure."

"This isn't miscommunication," he said.

"We have had a situation where the department has been telling the PBO that documents that do exist, don't exist, and refusing to turn them over."

Angus: Excuse isn't credible

Angus also said the department's version of events is not credible.

"Now they've been caught, because we've had access to several of the documents, so they're changing their story," he said.

"It shows me they are putting the protection of the department above the interests of children."