By Melissa Ridgen
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) is sitting on a report that details financial mismanagement by an agency that’s burned through close to $100 million in the past three years.
The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) was given the money to care for some 2,000 evacuees whose Manitoba First Nations were written-off by a flood in 2011.
APTN Investigates previously reported last year questionable overtime, mileage and cellphone charges claimed by MANFF employees and their family members who worked on this particular file, as well as a million-dollar bill for snacks from a high-end Winnipeg eatery and at least one MANFF-funded trip that appeared to be more leisure than business.
APTN also reported complaints that MANFF evacuee coordinators were abusive and engaged in hard partying and unprofessional behavior in various hotels while they were being paid to care for evacuees. Two years after the flood, most evacuees remained displaced but have since been moved into rental accommodations and are now being cared for by the Red Cross
Soon after these allegations came to light, AANDC hired KPMG to do a financial investigation of MANFF. As well, Aboriginal affairs employed Hallux Consulting to do a management review.
“It’s bad. I talked to the people who did the [financial] investigation and it’s bad. I know it’s very bad because it’s black and white. There’s nothing they can hide. What they did or how it was done – it’s there in print,” said Mike Bruneau, owner of two of the hotels that lodged evacuees for several months.
On Wednesday, APTN asked for the report, which took a year to complete. Aboriginal Affairs said it would be available Thursday morning. When pressed Thursday afternoon, they said it would be available by the end of the day. But hours later the department said they won’t hand it over and that only a cut-down version will be made public.
“A summary of the audit findings will be posted on our website in due course,” said Brock Holowachuk, a spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs’ Manitoba region.
New information alleges MANFF’s board of directors and management were paid between $1,000 and $10,000 in cash bonuses one Christmas. That’s when the agency cashed in CanadInns loyalty points that accumulated when flood and fire evacuees were lodged at those hotels. A source tells APTN that allegation was made after the audit and isn’t even part of what AANDC is investigating.
Bruneau says he’s not surprised Ottawa wants to sweep the audit under the rug.
“(AANDC’s) motivation is that they gave people $100 million to spend that they weren’t qualified to spend. That’s what they’re hiding. The government is really going to have to explain that to taxpayers how this happened and after they knew it was happening, how they let it keep going,” he said.
Bruneau blew the lid off MANFF’s financial dysfunction in 2013 when he went to media with $2.6 million in unpaid invoices for food and lodging. MANFF had been given money from the government to pay the bills, yet couldn’t.
Aboriginal Affairs investigated and quickly cut Bruneau a cheque for the full amount. So taxpayers actually paid twice.
In addition to stonewalling the investigation from being made public, an access to information request suggests the management review of MANFF by Hallux Consulting is never going to see the light of day.
APTN has departmental emails (see below) in which staff discuss how to respond to media questions about the MANFF investigations and management review.
A reporter asked if a preliminary management review report would be made public. The answer was “No. The department only publishes finalized reviews.” The follow-up question asked if the management review will ever be finalized. The answer was “No. Other investigations have been given priority.”
Bruneau feels there is no accountability by AANDC and no repercussions for MANFF.
He served the Emergency Measures Organization of Manitoba and AANDC notice of a $3.5 million lawsuit, claiming he is still owed money for food, lodging and food dating back a year. That’s bills unpaid after AANDC covered the unpaid $2.6 tab.
Last week, one flooded-out community, the Lake St Martin First Nation, inked a deal with the feds and the province to relocate and rebuild. While another, Little Saskatchewan First Nation, is in the rebuilding process.