OTTAWA — The federal auditor general says two of the government’s key pillars meant to improve the lives of aboriginal peoples have gone awry because of infighting, poor co-ordination and lack of planning.
© The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick
Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson speaks to reporters at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 regarding the 2013 Spring Report.
Auditor general Michael Ferguson says attempts to deal with the fallout of the residential school system are in a mess as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission bickers with the federal government over what historical documents need to be provided and how they should be preserved.
And he says Ottawa’s plans to deal with rising rates of diabetes — especially on First Nations reserves — are showing no results because government programs aren’t working together or checking to see what their projects accomplish.
At stake are the mental and physical health of First Nations families across Canada at a time when aboriginal communities are crying out for better treatment from the federal government.
Time is running out for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to fulfil its mandate of creating a historical record of residential schooling, which would serve as the basis for confronting the legacy left by 120 years of a system known for its emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children.
It has until July 2014 to put together a complete record, but Ferguson says work has barely begun because government departments and the commission have not been able to agree on the scope of the work.
“We are concerned that the lack of co-operation, delays and looming deadline stand in the way of creating the historical record of Indian residential schools as it was originally intended,” he said.
Elsewhere in his report, Ferguson chided the Canada Revenue Agency for not working hard enough to chase people who owe back taxes. And he said the government needs to do more to collect from people who cheat the employment insurance system.
Ferguson also slammed Canada’s search-and-rescue system for having geriatric aircraft, an archaic case-management system, and a schedule of business hours when disasters can happen at the oddest times.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is considered the cornerstone of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology to residential school survivors in June 2008, meant to give aboriginal families and other Canadians closure on a troubling part of our history.
Despite years of back-and-forth, the commission’s work has been hampered by haggling over how far Aboriginal Affairs needs to go in digging up archived documents. The government had maintained that it only needed to hand over documentation that had already been tabled in court for survivors’ lawsuits over the years.
But the commission wanted a far broader range of documents — a demand recently backed up by guidance from Ontario Superior Court.
In the meantime, Aboriginal Affairs did not finish identifying where the documents actually were until June 2012, the audit says.
Now, Library and Archives Canada estimates it will take $40 million and 10 years to find and digitize all the required records. The auditors say the documentation would need to be pulled from 80 different archives involving 135 schools, and would fill about 69,000 boxes.
The audit urges the commission and government departments to reach out to the survivors and aboriginal organizations to hash out a practical solution soon. It also tells the commission that it needs to put together a solid plan to properly preserve the documentation. And all parties need to keep an eye on the clock.
“They need to factor in the time left in the commission’s mandate and the resources available,” the audit states.
Ferguson urged similar efforts to find a practical solution to the way the federal government handles diabetes, which proportionately affects two to three times as many aboriginal people as non-aboriginal.
The auditors found that the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research all have multi-milliondollar programs to prevent and control diabetes, but that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Rather, each agency has its own track, and the results are fragmented and hard to evaluate.
“Activities remain largely unco-ordinated, and their impact is unknown,” Ferguson said.
After seven years of contemplating how to deal with chronic disease, including diabetes, the Public Health Agency in particular “has weak management practices in place for delivering its diabetes prevention and control activities; for example, it has no strategy, priorities, deliverables, or timelines, and no performance measures,” the auditors found.
About 2.4 million Canadians are living with diabetes, and about 20 per cent of cases remain undiagnosed, the audit states. Since health costs for diabetics are about three to four times greater than for people without diabetes, the strain on the health care system is considerable.
The government has agreed with all the auditor general’s recommendations. Aboriginal Affairs says it will comply with the court’s direction on providing residential schools documentation. And the agencies involved in diabetes programs say they are putting together a plan to co-ordinate and monitor results.