08/02/2012 07:54 EDT | Updated 10/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Attawapiskat didn't Mismanage Funds, Harper -- You Did


The government was wrong in its response to the crisis in Attawapiskat and its ongoing attempt to divide Canadians with misleading information is shameful. Federal court ruled

this morning the that the Conservative government's response to the crisis in Attawapiskat was unreasonable and failed to look at any remedy other than the appointment of a Third Party Manager.

Rather that own up to their mistake the Conservative government says it is "disappointed" with the decision. What will it take for this government to take responsibility for its own incompetence?


The court made it clear that Attawapiskat did not mismanage funds, as the Conservatives -- from the Prime Minister on down -- accused them of doing in an attempt to deflect blame from themselves. It also made clear that the decision to appoint a third party manager during the Attawapiskat crisis was unreasonable. But this is part of a much broader issue.


At the outset, the government knew putting a third party manager in place was the wrong direction to go in. The government's own 2010 review of its intervention policy, which they introduced back in 2006, found that the use of Third Party Management was neither cost effective, nor did it manage to achieve its stated objectives, such as improving conditions in First Nations communities.

In fact, because third party managers are paid out of First Nations community funding, the process was found to simply drain the very limited capacity in these communities without dealing with the underlying issues that led to intervention being considered in the first place.


The review noted that third party managers do not generally contribute to capacity building and that there are a number of unintended impacts of the policy. Most notably, the policy has a negative impact on the availability of band support funding for governance and administration and the cost of co-managers and third party managers is particularly high for smaller and more remote communities.


The previous federal minister, Chuck Strahl, promised to overhaul the intervention policy back in the summer of 2010, but we have unfortunately seen no action on this commitment.


Further, the government's own August 2010 audit of on reserve housing showed that funding is based on bad data and that the government cannot adequately demonstrate the extent to which funding for housing achieves expected outcomes. The government's own assessments of its policy for intervention and its programs for housing showed they were abysmal failures.


Yet, the Prime Minister made a political decision to distract Canadians from his government's neglect by blaming the victim. Harper purposely called attention to large aggregate funding numbers for the community, quoting money spent over many years and amalgamating money for programs like health, education and various other social programs most Canadians take for granted. His attempt to divert Canadians with this "sticker shock" created the impression that the community was well funded and the band must have squandered or misused money. 

Shamefully, this was the cornerstone of the government's response to the court decision today. Repeating the misleading figure of $90-million, the government is continuing its campaign of confusion in an attempt to convince Canadians that First Nations are getting large sums of money and that the government is fulfilling its obligations.

This is an impression that has now been established to be unfounded by the federal court. Despite the government's comments about management, they failed to produce any evidence of mismanagement or incorrect spending by the band. Further, the court noted that the $90-million referenced by the Prime Minister, and government spokespeople even today, could not have related exclusively to the funds made available for housing repair or reconstruction.


It is clear that this government sees Aboriginal people as adversaries. It chose to smear the reputation of the band instead of owning up to its responsibility to respond to the housing emergency in Attawapiskat.


Given today's court decision, the Conservative government should accept responsibility for its own mismanagement of the crisis, abstain from an appeal and reimburse the Attawapiskat band for all funds they were forced to pay for this third party manager. We also need a complete overhaul of the government's intervention policy so that it is focused on partnership and collaboration and deals with issues like capacity development and prevention strategies.

The Conservative government must work with First Nations to find solutions rather than simply trying to deflect blame for their own failures.