The auditor general of Canada speaks up.
The auditor general of Canada released a report in June of this year examining Programs for First Nations on Reserve (external - login to view)
. A similar report was published in 2006. This report identifies deficiencies in program planning and delivery by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Health Canada, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
The reports also provide a number of recommendations to improve these deficiencies. The 2011 report evaluated the progress made since the 2006 report, and in most areas, gave these federal agencies a failing grade.
Don't worry, there is a point to this, stay with me.
The 2011 report has this to say:
In our view, many of the problems facing First Nations go deeper than the existing programs' lack of efficiency and effectiveness. We believe that structural impediments severely limit the delivery of public services to First Nations communities and hinder improvements in living conditions on reserves. We have identified four such impediments:
- lack of clarity about service levels,
- lack of a legislative base,
- lack of an appropriate funding mechanism, and
- lack of organizations to support local service delivery.
I know this is going to look like mumbo jumbo at first, so let me break it down a little for you. This will help explain why millions of dollars of funding is not enough to actually improve the living conditions of First Nations people, particularly those on reserve.
Lack of clarity about service levels
As explained earlier the federal government is in charge of delivering services that are otherwise provided by the provinces to non-natives. The auditor general states (external - login to view)
It is not always evident whether the federal government is committed to providing services on reserves of the same range and quality as those provided to other communities across Canada.
Shockingly, the federal government does not always have clear program objectives, nor does it necessarily specify specific roles and responsibilities for program delivery, and has not established measures for evaluating performance in order to determine if outcome are actually met.
That's right. The federal government is not keeping track of what it does, how it does it, or whether what it is doing works. The auditor general recommends the federal government fix this, pronto. How can a community rely on these services if the federal government itself isn't even clear on what it is providing and whether the programs are working?
Lack of a legislative base
Provincial legislation provides a basis of clarity for services delivered by provinces. A legislative base for programs specifies respective roles and responsibilities, eligibility, and other program elements. It constitutes an unambiguous commitment by government to deliver those services. The result is that accountability and funding are better defined.
The provinces all have some sort of Education Act that clearly lays out the roles and responsibilities of education authorities, as well as mechanisms of evaluation. There is generally no comparable federal legislation for the provision of First Nations education, health care, housing and so on.
As noted by the AG (external - login to view)
, legislation provides clarity and accountability. Without it, decision can be made on an ill-defined "policy" basis or on a completely ad hoc basis.
Lack of an appropriate funding mechanism
The AG focuses on a few areas here.
Lack of service standards for one. Were you aware that provincial building codes do not apply on reserve? Some provincial laws of "general application" (like Highway Traffic Acts) can apply on reserve, but building codes do not. There is a federal National Building Code, but enforcement and inspection has been a major problem. This has been listed as one of the factors in why homes built on reserve do not have a similar 'life' to those built off reserve.
Poor timing for provision of funds is another key issue. "Most contribution agreements must be renewed yearly. In previous audits, we found that the funds may not be available until several months into the period to be funded," the auditor general states (external - login to view)
This is particularly problematic for housing
as "money often doesn't arrive until late summer, past the peak construction period, so projects get delayed and their costs rise," the CBC says
Lack of accountability.
It is often unclear who is accountable to First Nations members for achieving improved outcomes or specific levels of services. First Nations often cite a lack of federal funding as the main reason for inadequate services. For its part, INAC maintains that the federal government funds services to First Nations but is not responsible for the delivery or provision of these services.
The AG also refers to a heavy reporting burden put on First Nations, and notes that the endless paperwork often is completely ignored anyway by federal agencies.
Lack of organisations to support local service delivery
This refers once again to the fact that there are hardly any federal school or health boards, or federal infrastructure and expertise. Some programs are delivered through provincial structures, while others are provided directly by the federal government, with less than stellar results.
Chelsea Vowel: Attawapiskat: You Want to Be Shown the Money? Here it Is. (external - login to view)