AG calls on gov't to address First Nations issues
Published Sunday, May 29, 2011 1:01PM EDT
Outgoing Auditor General Sheila Fraser says it is "incumbent" upon her office to speak out about dismal conditions on First Nations reserves, which, despite billions of dollars in federal funding, still suffer crushing social and economic hardships.
Fraser, who wraps up her 10-year term Monday, told CTV's Question Period Sunday that after 30 audits on First Nations issues, particularly reserves, she sees conditions for aboriginal Canadians worsening despite a plethora of government programs.
"When as auditor general you see billions of dollars going into a program and the results are not there, and especially when it's the results that are affecting families and children across this country, I think it is incumbent upon the auditor general to raise the question, to try to raise awareness and to certainly urge the government to try to improve the situation," Fraser said.
She cited a long-standing lack of clarity on the federal government's role in administering funds and monitoring progress as a key stumbling block to success. But she also pointed to a lack of capacity in many smaller communities that don't have school boards and other agencies to implement programs.
"I just find it really sad to think that on half of First Nations reserves the water presents a high risk to their health and safety, that only 40 per cent of aboriginal children graduate from high school and the rest of Canada it's over 70. And if you go through every one of the indicators, it's the same situation," Fraser said.
Fraser added later: "So there are a number of fundamental management issues that really should be looked at and I think it's going to take a lot of hard work on the part of the federal government and First Nations together to try to ascertain why these programs are not being more successful and how could things be made better, because I just don't think this should continue on the way it is."
During the interview, Fraser also defended the blunt language she often used when presenting her reports, particularly when she accused the Liberals of "breaking every rule in the book" during the sponsorship scandal.
"In fact they did break every rule in the book, so it was actually quite a factual statement," she said, adding she didn't want to make light of the political scandal itself.
"I made a very conscious decision, we did in the office, to use plain language to try to make the reports more accessible to Canadians, use less bureaucratic jargon and technical language so our audit reports would be more understandable and our conclusions people would understand."
Fraser urged the federal government to also become more open with Canadians about issues that will become of greater concern, including a rapidly aging population, crumbling infrastructure and climate change.
"All of us are getting older every day, potentially fewer people in the workforce, people drawing more pensions, more health-care expenditures. There are a number of implications that are possible from that," Fraser said. "And I would really like to see the federal government producing longer-term forecasts and presenting these issues to Canadians so Canadians have an understanding of what the costs will be and maybe what some of the choices will have to be down the road."