In the last edition of the Nation (Vol. 15, No. 16), Charlie Angus, NDP MP for Timmins-James Bay, accused Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) of misspending and shady reallocations. While Marc Brooks, INAC’s Director General of Community Development, will confirm the reallocations, he could not say where the money went.
“Once it’s out of my envelope, I don’t see it anymore,” said Brooks explaining that when money is taken out of his dossier to address other “priority pressures,” it becomes the responsibility of INAC’s financial organization.
When it comes to effectively managing the ministry’s budget, INAC follows a “priority framework” to fund various operations and projects. In its 2008-2009 budget, supplementary funding was set aside for its health-and-safety program in relation to water and sewers as part of the capital infrastructure fund.
Brooks explained that this specific fund is “targeted,” meaning that this funding will not be used for anything else though it is the only aspect of the capital budget that is.
As for the capital budget for school construction and repairs and social housing, funding to the tune of approximately $79 million has been reallocated from this budget annually between 1999 and 2007 to address other priorities that INAC justifies.
The priorities in question INAC listed as education, social development, economic development, federal responsibilities in the North and internal services.
Brooks also referred to a number of “acts of God” that force INAC to pull funding out of the school capital fund for emergencies such as natural disaster relief. “This can potentially delay a project from going forward,” said Brooks.
At the same time he also spoke of how the rising cost of construction and the lack of resources, partially due to an exploration boom in Alberta, were also delaying construction and repairs in the school sector as things like fuel and materials are becoming increasingly costly and manpower is scarce.
Pleading his case, Brooks said, “One has to appreciate that the demand on the funding far exceeds the quantity that is available.”
According to a NDP document, titled The Order Paper Answer on INAC funding, which was submitted to the House of Commons in April, changes have been made in the vocabulary used to indicate as to whether school projects are actually underway or will receive funding.
Unlike its predecessors, this document, which basically details the status of all school construction or repair requests across Canada for the fiscal year, no longer lists projects as either in “tendering phase” or “construction phase”. This makes it significantly harder to track what exactly is happening with the projects and funding to anyone else other than those in charge.
In response to questioning about the change in jargon, Brooks said, “It’s nothing Machiavellian if that is what you are trying to imply. It’s just my team trying to put things to make it a little more easier on ourselves if I can say it that way.”
According to both the documents and Brooks, 11 school projects, either for reparations or new construction, are listed under the “projects approved” category and are slated for the 2008-2009 fiscal year although at the same time these projects are also listed as “contingent on availability of funding.”
Despite the promise of funding for these projects, Brooks is not guaranteeing that they will all happen. “If you were able to guarantee that we were not going to be able to have any forest fires, any floods, any natural disasters, then I probably could provide that guarantee,” he said.
Attawapiskat is unfortunately not on the list of 11 schools slated for new construction. Brooks was unavailable to respond earlier in regards to the misspending allegations because he was in Attawapiskat meeting with Chief Theresa Hall and looking at possible funding alternatives to build a new school that INAC currently will not fund.
Though he would not comment beyond saying that “certain avenues are being explored” for the Attawapiskat school, which consists of dilapidated trailers, Brooks did comment on how impressed he was with the reserve’s children.
“Quite often if children are not very happy they will not look at you in the face. But they all looked at me in the face – no one looked away,” said Brooks.