Indige­nous Af­fairs port­fo­lio is demo­crat­i­cally flawed

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS - SHEILLA JONES

It isn’t easy to grasp just how vast and com­plex Canada’s fed­eral Indige­nous af­fairs port­fo­lio has be­come over the past 50 years. Now di­vided into Indige­nous Ser­vices and Crown-indige­nous Re­la­tions, it’s un­like any other fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­part­ment. The port­fo­lio is more ac­cu­rately de­scribed as a fed­er­ally run prov­ince.

This makes sense be­cause, ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment, some 80% of the Indige­nous pro­grams and ser­vices it de­liv­ers, par­tic­u­larly in First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties, are provin­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties such as health care, education, hous­ing and em­ploy­ment pro­grams.

How does this fed­er­ally run prov­ince stack up against Canada’s real prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries?

First off, it’s a super-prov­ince. No mat­ter how the de­part­ment is di­vided, it has ju­ris­dic­tional reach over about 90% of Canada’s land mass through the his­toric and the mod­ern treaties signed af­ter 1975. That’s a lot of ter­ri­tory.

As a fed­eral gov­ern­ment en­tity, the de­part­ment is nat­u­rally fed­er­ally funded. Prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries are also funded in part by fed­eral trans­fers. We know the amount of those trans­fers be­cause Ot­tawa pub­lishes those fig­ures.

What we don’t know is how much the fed­eral gov­ern­ment spends an­nu­ally de­liv­er­ing Indige­nous pro­grams and ser­vices. The de­part­ment had a bud­get of about $10 bil­lion for 2017-18. But there were, ac­cord­ing to the de­part­ment, an­other 33 fed­eral de­part­ments and agen­cies act­ing as its co-de­liv­ery part­ners for Indige­nous pro­grams and ser­vices.

Un­til 2004-05, the de­part­ment pub­lished the names and con­tri­bu­tions of its co-de­liv­ery part­ners. Its fund­ing was $5.8 bil­lion that year, and its 13 co-de­liv­ery part­ners spent an ad­di­tional $3 bil­lion on Indige­nous pro­grams. Col­lec­tively, Indige­nous Af­fairs plus its fed­eral co-de­liv­ery part­ners spent $8.8 bil­lion de­liv­er­ing Indige­nous pro­grams and ser­vices across Canada. Af­ter that, it stopped pro­vid­ing data on co-de­liv­ery part­ners.

A rough es­ti­mate of what the de­part­ment and its 33 co-de­liv­ery part­ners spent de­liv­er­ing Indige­nous pro­grams and ser­vices in 2017-18 is about $19 bil­lion. That’s a lot of money.

If the de­part­ment were a real prov­ince, $19 bil­lion in fed­eral fund­ing would, in 2017-18, have placed it just be­hind Que­bec

($22.7 bil­lion) and On­tario

($21.1 bil­lion) as Canada’s third largest re­cip­i­ent of fed­eral trans­fers, and well ahead of fourth-place British Co­lum­bia ($6.7 bil­lion).

That’s not all. The gov­ern­ment has an­nounced new spend­ing on Indige­nous pro­grams and ser­vices of an­other $4.8 bil­lion over five years and $1.7 bil­lion over 10 years. As the gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to ac­cel­er­ate spend­ing on Indige­nous is­sues, the de­part­ment may soon over­take Que­bec to be­come Canada’s largest prov­ince.

The Indige­nous peo­ple (First Na­tions, Inuit and Métis) who are re­cip­i­ents of these pro­grams and ser­vices are ef­fec­tively the de­part­ment’s ci­ti­zens. Not all of the

1.5 mil­lion peo­ple who self-iden­ti­fied as Indige­nous in the 2016 cen­sus are de­part­ment clients, but the ma­jor­ity are.

But here’s where the anal­ogy breaks down. In nor­mal fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, the min­is­ter is ap­pointed by the prime min­is­ter and ac­count­able to the PM and cab­i­net. Depart­men­tal bu­reau­crats are, in turn, ac­count­able to their min­is­ter. How­ever, this is not a nor­mal de­part­ment.

This de­part­ment holds in­or­di­nate power over the lives of peo­ple in First Na­tions and Inuit com­mu­ni­ties from birth to death, yet the ci­ti­zens have no say in how it op­er­ates.

Not a sin­gle per­son in the de­part­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion is elected by or­di­nary Indige­nous peo­ple to rep­re­sent their in­ter­ests.

Indige­nous peo­ple can’t ex­press their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the ad­min­is­tra­tion by throw­ing it out and elect­ing one more to their lik­ing. There are no struc­tural mech­a­nisms whereby ci­ti­zens can de­mand their voices be heard or hold the ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­count­able to them.

It would be as if ci­ti­zens of New Brunswick or Saskatchewan were gov­erned by a bu­reau­cracy in Ot­tawa with­out any of­fi­cials elected by the peo­ple to rep­re­sent them. That would be an out­ra­geous af­front to democ­racy.

With ju­ris­dic­tional reach over al­most all of Canada and spend­ing ri­valling Que­bec and On­tario, this de­part­ment can in­deed be con­sid­ered a uniquely pow­er­ful super-prov­ince. But it’s one whose ci­ti­zens are uniquely pow­er­less.

Sheilla Jones is a Win­nipeg au­thor and se­nior fel­low with the Fron­tier Cen­tre for Pub­lic Pol­icy, lead­ing the Treaty An­nu­ity/ In­di­vid­ual Em­pow­er­ment Ini­tia­tive

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