Aboriginal anguish

  • June 14, 2011

For Canada’s First Nations people, last week’s auditor-general’s report must evoke deja vu.

In her farewell report to Parliament, outgoing auditor-general Sheila Fraser took the government to task for repeated and ongoing failure to address numerous barriers preventing First Nations people from sharing in Canada’s prosperity. It is Canada’s shame that so many native people live without such basic needs as a warm home and safe water.

The auditor general itemized what previous reports had said about the failure of successive governments to improve living standards on native reserves. Yet these observations barely made the news. The headlines went to the splashier findings about outrageous expenditures from last year’s G8/G20 summits and, in particular, excessive spending in the Parry Sound-Muskoka riding of Conservative cabinet minister Tony Clement.

As the new Treasury Board president, Clement is expected to introduce spending efficiency to a cash-strapped government. Today, that seems a bit rich. Clement was rebuked by the auditor general for blowing some $45 million tax dollars in his  riding, using funds approved for border security on local projects without proper oversight or an appropriate paper trail. While he was authorizing gazebos and other projects in Ontario’s cottage country, First Nations people were living in mould-infested homes, boiling drinking water to avoid disease and sending children to ramshackle schools.

At some point in his new capacity, Clement will be called to review the billions of dollars spent on First Nations projects. It is good practice to periodically examine all aspects of government spending to ensure taxpayers are getting their money’s worth. In the case of federal services affecting the First Nations, Clement will have the benefit of several auditor general’s reports detailing how native people have been consistently short-changed over the years.

For more than a decade, successive auditors have highlighted sub-standard living conditions on reserves and made repeated recommendations intended to bring about improvement. Yet the latest report underlines the shameful reality that life for First Nations peoples is not getting better.

“Instead, the average well-being of those communities continued to rank significantly below that of other Canadian communities,” the report said. “Conditions on too many reserves are poor and have not improved significantly.”

In the June 3 Speech from the Throne, the Conservatives pledged to address the barriers that have prevented Aboriginal people from sharing in Canada’s prosperity. They promised programs to spur economic development, improve education opportunities and guarantee access to clean water and clean energy.

These are all worthy proposals, but they’ve all been promised before. It’s time the majority Conservative governnment put their plans into action.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.