I try to keep an eye on announcements by the federal government of Canada. Yes (sigh), even the announcement that the feds have launched BizPal in Muskoka. But there was nothing on my computer about Son of Chuckie’s latest.

Chuck Strahl, Canada\'s Minister of Indian and Northern AffairsChuck Strahl, the Minister of Indian Affairs, announced new “value-for-money” audits which will, according to Sue Bailey at Canadian Press, “better track how Indian Affairs spends billions of dollars will catch misappropriation, lax reporting and – in rare cases – fraud.”

The emphasis here, of course, is not on Indian Affairs but on those pesky Indians their danged mai-tai sipping lifestyles.

Let us ignore for a moment that one of the biggest frauds in recent years in Indian country was actually organized and perpetrated by a senior civil servant in Ottawa’s Health Department.

Or that the Auditor-General of Canada slammed the Indian Affairs Department in 2002 for lack of or bizarre funding policies, and of ham-stringing band councils and Aboriginal organizations with multiple layers of audits that had some bands filing as many financial reports as days in a year.

Which raises interesting questions amongst we poor folk in the bushlands. We were just wondering how much the Federal Government wastes with its bizarre arrangements for program funding, in outstanding interest payments, or where the “value-for-money” is in such idiocy.

Y’see, this is how federal funding usually (often?) works in Indian country, and keep in mind that this applies for both new and continuing (year-to-year) programs:

  • bands and organizations understand and rush to submit applications for funding on deadlines often set toward the end of the calendar year (around Xmas) for funding that should be approved and kick in by the beginning of the new fiscal year, April 1.
  • Federal departments, though, sometimes (even often) change the program criteria and funding requirements even after the bands and organizations have had to submit their applications. The bands do so on assurances from Federal program officers that changes in policy likely, probably, hopefully will not affect their submission. No guarantees, of course.
  • the Federal departments then consider the program and grant applications sometimes (perhaps often) without knowing what changes will be made to policies, program criteria or funding requirements. This process may take months, and months, and more months, while they wait for the highest levels of government to decide what to do.
  • in the meantime, homes need to be built, schools need to operate, salaries for any number of people need to be paid, and this comes from lines of credit and loans that need to be arranged so ambulances continue to run and clinics keep operating. Who pays the interest on these loans and lines of credit? Sometimes this item is buried in the “miscellaneous” column, but often it must be taken out of regular program funding which may mean one less home or ambulance ride. But it certainly means more money to the banks.
  • it is not unusual for programs to receive their “new” funding six, eight, ten months into the fiscal year. One group I’m familiar with received its funding one month before it was required to submit its final report at the end of that fiscal year.

So here are some questions:

  1. this example deals only with Indian programs, and only in general terms. Does this or similar shenanigans take place in other federal departments as well?
  2. how widespread do you think this problem is?
  3. how much does the federal government’s idiocy (constantly changing funding requirements and late approval for funding) cost the Canadian taxpayer — not to mention the Aboriginal organization and programs?