Wondering where all the money goes in Attawapiskat?
Given the Harper government's frequent pronouncements this week about how the Conservatives have "heavily invested" in this tiny, freezing James Bay community over several years in power, I'm sure some of you are feeling puzzled about the exotic third-world conditions.
Rightly so to be wondering what the heck is going on and thus I've decided to place Harper's communications department under third-party management until all of the facts are sorted out for the Canadian taxpayer.
Let's start by moving into the office of Greg Rickford, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Development. Slap down a box of donuts, sigh heavily, and commandeer his chair. He addressed MPs in the House last Friday:
"We have invested heavily in First Nations schools, including in Attawapiskat," Rickford announced, echoing Harper's spin that Attawapiskat must be an unconscionably corrupt money pit, given the government's $90 million "investment" over six years, a sum that other provincial and municipal jurisdictions receive without fanfare as standard transfer payments but that, here, is being played out as some sort of exciting venture capitalism opportunity gone awry.
In my capacity as Third-Party Manager reluctantly taking over the message, I have looked into the statements of fact and discovered, oddly, that Attawapiskat has no school at all.
Not only does it lack a three-dimensional school building with standard amenities like a gym, but the absence of a school has been the focus of a nationally and internationally applauded campaign by Attawapiskat schoolchildren, called "Shannen's Dream" for several years.
That's right: one of the children in Attawapiskat, the lively and ardent Shannen Koostachin, actually garnered an International Children's Peace Prize for her ambitious efforts to advocate for the right to have what she called "a safe and comfy school." She and her classmates hoped against hope for something other than an indifferent and poorly-heated mishmash of portable structures on industrially contaminated ground infested by mice, with neither gym nor library, nor what you might loosely call a conducive learning environment.
Notwithstanding this rejecting experience, the children of Attawapiskat have been extraordinarily resilient and articulate and bold.
One of Attawapiskat's youth, Chelsea Edwards, was featured in a Globe and Mail article recently about Aboriginal kids determined to succeed against the odds.
If you want to go all high-concept and iconic about it, they have been fighting as valiantly as Disney's Pocahontas over their constitutionally guaranteed right to an education that isn't disrupted by scurrying rodents and gale-force winds. (Surprised that Aboriginal children desire a good education? A free one is provided in Canada to new immigrants, as well as the children of people on welfare and in prison, so, you know, it's not really that outlandish of these kids to hope for same. But feel free to argue they don't deserve it in the comments section, below.)
Meantime, I must say that speaking as his Third-Party Manager what we see here is a bit of an accounting error on Mr. Rickford's part.
Indeed, for Rickford to stand up in Parliament and imply that Attawpiskat not only has a proper school, but one that has been "heavily invested in," as if the government has been rooting for its success as the next model example of First-Rate Canadian Elementary School Education -- rather than yawning about its failure to even exist, is an unfortunate mismanagement of communications -- at least in the expert assessment of this Third-Party Manager.
It is also a slap in the face of Shannen Koostachin's parents, who lost their daughter as a passenger in a car accident in 2010 when she had to complete her education in Timmins because there is no on-reserve education past Grade 10.
I will continue to bring you updates as I scrutinize the spin, but for the moment this may give taxpayers a preliminary hint as to why Attawapiskat chief and council were so offended that the federal government's response to their despair was to send up -- not blankets and insulated yurts -- but a scowling accountant.
More soon, as I audit further statements...