Strategy of making announcements and holding onto funds must stop

Sunny ways are upon us, and certainly plenty of sunny smiles and soft comforting words have been the hallmark of the first year of a Justin Trudeau government, but there are signs that some of the less savoury habits of the predecessor government are still very much in play.

As more than one First Nations leader has recently noted, they are still dealing with the same bureaucrats that sat across the table during the Harper years, and the same is undoubtedly true in many other government portfolios as well, but if the current government does not break with the practical methodology of their predecessors they will find that supremacy in the polls can prove to be ephemeral and quickly evaporate.

It has come to the attention of The Expositor that a significant amount of funding slated for education and housing in the aboriginal sector has not been allocated.

During the admittedly challenging years faced by the Harper regime it became alarmingly commonplace for the federal government to announce funding, for veterans, for infrastructure, or for a host of other needed and necessary investments in the social and economic fabric of the nation, proudly trumpeting the largesse until the dust had settled—and then simply not release the money.

This so-called “lapsed” funding isn’t just chump change, even in the heady world of government numbers. The lapsed spending for fiscal 2016 is reportedly $9.7 billion, according to Public Accounts Canada. Now the good news is that those funds are used to pay down the federal debt, but with $900 million dollars being returned to the kitty from 2016 allocation for the Department of Indigenous Affairs (admittedly a year when the Conservatives controlled the purse strings for seven months and the Liberals for five), the way is looking depressingly less than sunny.

There are crisis being faced in a number of regions of this country, crisis that are hurting real and very innocent people—many of them children and particularly in the First Nations, where schools are falling apart, boil water advisories are rampant and the education system has been demonstrably underfunded through the passage of more than an entire cohort of students—and to add insult to penury, the excuse given for not tackling these crisis with dispatch is the vast cost.

The cumulative amounts are simply staggering. In 2015 the amount of lapsed funding in the indigenous folder was $1 billion, that’s 10 percent of that ministry’s budget for fiscal 2015. That 10 percent alone would have gone a long way toward easing the plight of the children caught up in the shortfall in social services for indigenous children for which our nation has been internationally castigated. It could help to build new schools, bridge the gap between provincial and federal education systems, or a deal with host of other shortfalls in the Crown’s treaty obligations to its first peoples.

These are dark thoughts casting a shadow on sunny ways. We want to believe the current government is cut from a different cloth, but in journalism you quickly learn to measure a politician by their actions, not their words, no matter how sunny and upbeat those words may be.

Barely a year has passed since regime change has taken place in Ottawa, and it would be unfair to expect all things to be bright and beautiful after coming up a billion dollars short and a century late, but with sunny ways lighting our way forward, it is definitely time to pick up the pace.

Doing government differently should mean getting things done—not sitting on one’s hands to grow lapsed funds.