OTTAWA – Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt is being accused of dragging his feet over allegations of poor financial management at the Metis National Council.
The Canadian Press reported Wednesday on a draft of an audit that said the council is paying a numbered company owned by its Manitoba affiliate “more than it should” to rent office space.
The council vehemently disputes that finding.
In a letter to Valcourt released Thursday, the head of the B.C. Metis Federation says it appears no one at Aboriginal Affairs seems concerned about the findings of an Ottawa consulting firm enlisted to audit the council and its provincial affiliates.
“To stand by and allow mismanagement, misspending and ignoring your own audits and Senate recommendations is truly disappointing,” writes federation president Keith Henry.
“Many of your staff addressing Metis issues do not support public transparency and accountability, and I can assure you that this is no longer acceptable, nor should it have been for the years it was allowed and enabled to carry on with the full support and approval of your department.”
Officials in the minister’s office say the matter has already been dealt with through the signing in April 2013 of a renewed Metis protocol and a new governance and financial accountability accord.
But that was before details of the audits of the council and its provincial affiliates became public.
The Canadian Press first reported that the council and its provincial affiliates had come under scrutiny for their management practices and financial controls.
It also emerged that the council enlisted a convicted sex offender to work with survivors of residential schools, the church-run institutions where children endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Valcourt’s office once again repeated its earlier statement about the council — just as it did on Wednesday — urging it to continue “taking the necessary steps to strengthen its financial accountability to its members and all Canadians.”
The B.C. Metis Federation met earlier with month with Aboriginal Affairs officials and staff from Valcourt’s office. The organization wants to be recognized as a credible alternative to the Metis Nation British Columbia, which is a governing member of the Metis National Council.
The two rival groups are locked in a public battle that has gone all the way to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The commission is now looking into an allegation that the federal government discriminated against some Metis people by only funding the MNBC and not the federation.
The federation accuses the MNBC of restricting membership and limiting access to federally funded programs and services. The federation alleges that by funding only the MNBC, the federal government is excluding those Metis not among its ranks.
All of these issues arise at a pivotal moment for the Metis, who stand to become a powerful force in aboriginal politics, depending on the eventual outcome of a long-standing court battle.
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and several Metis and non-status Indians took the federal government to court in 1999, alleging discrimination because they were not considered “Indians” under a section of the Constitution Act.
Last year, the Federal Court recognized them as “Indians” under the Constitution, a ruling largely upheld earlier this year by the Federal Court of Appeal.
Depending on if and when the federal government appeals that finding, a final decision would begin a long legal process that might eventually open the door to financial benefits and more programs and services for Metis people.
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© The Canadian Press, 2014