Tuesday, May 26, 2009

WTF Chuck? More Shame on Chuck Strahl

It's wrong. Chuck Strahl knows it. And there's no sign the Minister intends to do a damn thing to fix it.

Only half of First Nations children ever graduate high school - a sad fact that predictably leads to low wages, unemployment, poverty. First Nations advocates argue that the main reason for high drop out rates is that First Nations kids aren't getting a fair and equal chance at education. Advocacy organizations say that 65 First Nations communities have no schools at all, and another 95 have schools in a "terrible state of disrepair."

Well, in case we doubted those numbers, the independent Parliamentary Budget Office has not only confirmed, but heaped new criticism on Indian Affairs in its report released yesterday.

According to the PBO about $308 million is needed to build and refurbish schools on reserves each year for the next five years.

Part of the problem is that although INAC keeps budgeting money for education, it tends to raid the piggy bank and spend those dollars elsewhere.(For example, last April's Auditor General Report noted that INAC has robbed Peter to pay Paul by transferring some dollars from education, as well as housing, to a cash-starved child welfare system)

The report adds that INAC doesn't have a discernible method for budgeting its capital program nor does it have reliable data on the schools that exist on reserves, including when they were built and what shape they are in. In addition it found:

  • Less than half the existing First Nations schools in Canada are listed in "good" condition

  • INAC's data on First Nations schools is inadequate for proper planning and accounting purposes.

  • $122M was reallocated from school projects and spent on other areas from 2003 to 2008

  • INAC built an average of 35 schools per year in the 1990s, but built just eight in 2007 and 2008.

  • $169-189 million per year gap exists for maintaining current education infrastructure

(News story)

The PBO filed the report after New Democrat Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) asked the PBO to study the issue of government funding for reserve schools. Charlie Angus is perhaps best known these days for supporting the First Nation community, Attawapiskat, which is located in his northern Ontario riding, in their quest for a new school.

For those who don't know the story: The school in Attawapiskat was contaminated by a large diesel spill in 1979 but continued to house 400 students until 2000 when parents pulled their children out because of growing health-related problems. It was closed eight years ago because of health concerns. They have been in shoddy makeshift classrooms ever since. Last year INAC finally got around to demolishing the old school, but uncorked an odour that may be related to the old diesel spill. Children in the portables near the site have complained of breathing problems, headaches and nausea. The band council to shut the portables and a high school March 23, citing health concerns and requested that Indian Affairs evacuate part of the town or at least send the students elsewhere. INAC says it had the air tested, it's fine. Clearly officials do not/have chosen not to believe the residents.By the way, Ottawa had long suggested it would replace the school, but in 2008 Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said there was no money for the project.

I am not one who normally take potshots at a politician's personal life, but I think this is one of those cases where it needs to be said. A man who has cancer, which he believes in linked to exposure form asbestos should be just a little more sympathetic to kids being exposed to chemicals.

So what's next? Nothing of course. Here's an exchange between Charlie and Chuck yesterday in the house.

Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, 10 years ago, the Government of Canada was building 50 first nations schools a year. Last year, under the present minister, that number dropped to one. No wonder the children of Attawapaskat were told they were no longer a priority.The report of the Parliamentary Budget Officer shows massive underfunding, moneys being siphoned out of school building budgets and that there is no justifiable list from INAC to explain why some projects are going ahead and other projects are being cancelled. Will the minister accept the recommendations of the report and work with us to set up a transparent process so we can see where the adequate resources are going?

Hon. Chuck Strahl (Chuck Strahl Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for M├ętis and Non-Status Indians, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, there is a process to determine infrastructure investment priorities and it is done in every province across the country. When we announced budget 2009, where we added $200 million in extra dollars for school construction, I just took the list that was done at arm's length for me and we funded the 13 school projects that were covered in that. However, that member voted against that. He did not want that $200 million. What is more, he has never had a plan, as we saw with the Liberal-NDP coalition. As he said to the people of Attawapaskat, “I cannot promise I will ever build the school. We will just give it our best shot”.

So WTF Chuck? a) You just found out your department is playing footsie with the books and you fail to even address the issue? I am sure by now your not much fond of Charlie, but regardless of who poses the question, you owe Canadians and answer and could at least pretend to be concerned b)And .. now.. it's Charlie's fault?
Now maybe your happy with the way your career is going, and you like the way media, and ultimately history will portray you. But if you don't, here's what I think you should do Chuck.

1) Fire Ted Yeomans or whoever wrote that crappy answer for making you look like an idiot.
2) Grow some balls and go pound your fist on the cabinet table.

You're an elected leader and a Minister of Parliament for crying out loud. Start acting like it. Geesh.


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