Feds to Attawapiskat – Cough Up $1.8 Million

660
Attawapiskat
Attawapiskat remains with issues.

There is new housing being built in Attawapiskat
New housing being built in Attawapiskat

ATTAWAPISKAT – The federal government is seeking the small community of Attawapiskat to pay back $1.8 million dollars. The small community located in Northern Ontario has been at the centre of a long-running storm with Ottawa.

It is November, and once again, Attawapiskat is in the news.

The move to get money back stems from an audit that the federal government had requested in 2011. At the time, Attawapiskat had declared a state of emergency over a housing crisis in the community.

The Conservative Government says, “In December 2011, a comprehensive audit was requested by the Minister and Deputy Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) due to concerns with the ongoing housing situation in the Attawapiskat First Nation community, particularly given the level of total funding (approximately $104M) provided to them between April 1, 2005 and November 30, 2011 by AANDC for various purposes including housing, infrastructure, education, and administration. In this instance, the term comprehensive audit consisted of a recipient audit of the Attawapiskat First Nation, to provide assurance that funding provided to the Attawapiskat First Nation was spent for its intended purposes and in compliance with the terms and conditions of all funding agreements signed with AANDC and Health Canada; and, an internal audit of the AANDCmanagement control framework, to understand how AANDC oversight measures for housing related to the Attawapiskat First Nation were applied during that same period.

“The Attawapiskat First Nation was placed under co-management – a form of intervention employed by the Department with the goal of improving the financial situation of a recipient – by AANDC over ten years ago. On November 30, 2011, urgent housing health and safety issues in the community requiring immediate action were identified and resulted in AANDC appointing a Third Party Manager until such time as the community’s immediate needs would be addressed. On April 19, 2012, based on the progress made in remediating urgent housing-related health and safety issues, AANDC determined that the default situation was remedied and removed the First Nation from third party management”.

At the end of April 2012, the government came under fire for the third party manager being on holidays in Hawaii at a time when payments to students attending school outside Attawapiskat were being withheld. When the story broke in the news AANDC pulled the third party manager. Previously Attawapiskat had been under co-management.

The issues below were repeatedly noted in recurring management letters arising from financial statement audits:

  • Withdrawals by the Attawapiskat First Nation from the CMHC Replacement Reserve Account which left the account in a deficit position of $411K, as of July 2011;
  • Subsidized housing (i.e. rent-proportional-to-income) documentation was not being obtained in a timely manner and overdue rent collections were not being sufficiently followed-up upon;
  • Insufficient oversight on cheque and payroll disbursements and insufficient collection procedures;
  • Meeting minutes to support Band Council Resolutions (BCRs) were not always recorded;
  • Program revenues and expenditures were not always recorded accurately;
  • Budgets were not prepared;
  • There was incomplete, insufficient, and inaccurate bookkeeping noted;
  • Expenditures were made without the available funds; and,
  • Journal entries were made with no supporting documentation.

The results of the audit offer perhaps an insight that the federal government is not doing enough to have departmental oversight over the co-management or third-party management program.

On November 28th 2011, then Aboriginal Affairs Minister Duncan stated, “Our Government is deeply concerned with the situation in Attawapiskat First Nation. Earlier today, I spoke with departmental officials who are in the community to meet with Chief Theresa Spence and community members and investigate why conditions are as poor as they are, given the significant funding for housing, infrastructure, education, and administration provided by our government. I will be receiving updates from them daily and anticipate recommendations on the next steps to be taken very soon.

“The challenges facing the community are complex. We will continue to work closely with the community to ensure measures are taken to address the most immediate housing needs. Since 2006, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) alone has provided approximately $80 million to Attawapiskat First Nation, which does not include funding the community will receive this fiscal year. Most recently, AANDC committed $500,000 to the First Nation to take immediate action for urgent housing repairs as quickly as possible”.

During the housing crisis, Attawapiskat was placed under third-party management. The federal government ordered some new mobile homes to be delivered to the community.

Those modular homes, manufactured in the Maritimes were delivered to Attawapiskat.

Modular Home headed to Attawapiskat photo by Emma A. Williams
Northern Ice Roads allow large items to be transported to Northern Communities – Photo by Emma Williams

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has been a lightning rod for the federal government. Attawapiskat has filed their reports with AANDC under the federal Transparency Act legislation. Chief Spence was paid $82,984 in salary and had $14,230 in expenses.

The community is yet to comment publicly on the federal government’s demand that it return the funds. In responding to the auditor, Attawapiskat said, “The majority of the funds comprising this amount relate to two major contracts, each of which was completed and the full funds disbursed. While the documentation related to these transactions may be incomplete, no findings, documents or evidence suggests that the funds were not disbursed as stated.”

James Bay MP Charlie Angus says, “This is about settling scores and keeping the story off the mess at AANDC”.