Housing, not salaries

The Assembly of First Nations estimates that Canada’s reserves need about 80,000 new homes to solve a national crisis in housing. About 45 per cent of First Nations housing is substandard, with people living in condemned houses because they have nowhere else to go.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates that Canada’s reserves need about 80,000 new homes to solve a national crisis in housing. About 45 per cent of First Nations housing is substandard, with people living in condemned houses because they have nowhere else to go.

For most of us, the cost of a new home, using generally accepted rule-of-thumb estimates — no hardwood floors, no granite countertops, no built-in Jacuzzis or walk-in closets — is about $125,000 for a 1,000-square-foot home. That’s building costs only for an empty, no-frills house.

Let’s assume it costs more to build on a reserve — and recognize the cost is far higher when it’s built in a remote place like Attatawapiskat in Northern Ontario.

But at an estimate of even $200,000 each, federal funds for housing should have built about 100,000 small, snug homes on Canadian reserves since 2005, with a few hundred million left over for administration.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan says he’s ordering an audit at Attatawapiskat to find out where $90 million in federal money spent there has gone over the last five years.

For $90 million, you should at least get houses with doors and insulation. Running water shouldn’t be a luxury — not for the bills Canadian taxpayers have been paying.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been applauding the feds’ Bill C-27, the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

They report that chiefs on 50 Canadian reserves make more money than the prime minister. They — and now the federal Conservatives — want the pay packages of aboriginal politicians made public.

Not so much so the CTF can carp about them, but that people living on reserves getting no services from their band councils can see where the band money is going.

Their lobbying and the recent revelations regarding Attatawapiskat apparently have the prime minister angry.

Stephen Harper said he’s not happy with the poor results that natives have been getting get for the funds expended on them. He says he wants answers on where the money went. And you’ve got to know Harper doesn’t ask questions in public unless he already knows the answers.

Some of the answers are in poor-to-nonexistent oversight. Native bands aren’t like welfare recipients or provincial AISH recipients we have in our community.

They don’t have to submit their spending to scrutiny; they don’t have to tell an advisor if they got a part-time job and earned a few hundred bucks in the past month.

Canadians are learning now that in many cases, millions of dollars are being handed over annually to band councils, with only verbal reporting on how it was spent. Department officials often didn’t even write down what they were told was done with the money. Standard operating procedure, one must suppose.

The CTF asks why anyone lives in Attatawapiskat in the first place. If you lived in a remote community that had no future, wouldn’t you just move?

But there is a future near Attatawapiskat. There’s a diamond mine run by De Beers just down the road — and they have an active policy of hiring locally. Natives with a job at the mine often don’t return home with their money. They do exactly as the CTF suggests a rational person would do.

Duncan says emergency management measures have also been put in place at Attatawapiskat to ensure people in the Cree community of 2,000 have access to warm, dry shelter this winter.

He’s placed the community under third-party management — the highest form of intervention available to the federal government when it feels the health, safety or welfare of aboriginals is compromised and funding agreements aren’t being honoured.

Just asking . . . what does the chief at Attatawapiskat make?

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.