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Chief, ‘misinformed’ minister clash over Attawapiskat consultant Add to ...

From being pulled out of press conferences to avoid questions to the awkward 18-second delay in trying to frame his answer to a query about when he knew about the dire situation in Attawapiskat, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan’s performance has been subpar.

That continued Sunday when the Minister appeared on CTV’s Question Period, sowing even more confusion over a press release that tried to put a positive spin on his efforts and had obviously been timed for release just minutes before he was to go on national television.

The statement declared that the Harper government was providing 22 modular homes to the troubled Northern Ontario reserve, seven more than had originally been promised.

But it also stated that Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence had agreed to third-party management, a controversial issue since the government appointed the $1,300-a-day consultant last week to oversee the band council’s spending.

“I am pleased that Chief Spence has acknowledged the necessity of working with our Government, the third party management team, and Emergency Management Ontario to get help to the residents of Attawapiskat,” the minister said in his release.

Question Period’s producer, Nicole Green, immediately called Chief Spence to check the story. Ms. Spence told Ms. Green that she had not agreed to this. “That’s a lie,” she said.

Asked by co-host Craig Oliver about this discrepancy, Mr. Duncan again struggled to answer: “Mm-hmm,” he said.

Mr. Oliver asked him again: “On the question of her agreement to work with your third party manager, what can I say?”

Replied Mr. Duncan: “Well, the first nation is working with the third-party manager. The third-party manager’s in place. It’s been in, he’s been in place for some time now. And the third-party manager’s the one who ordered and paid for the 22 modular homes. The third-party manager is the one that paid for the flying in of supplies that we’ve just brought in to the community.”

He noted that his office – not he – had spoken with Ms. Spence within the past hour, suggesting his information was correct.

Later Sunday, the Chief issued an open letter, repeating that she had not agreed to the third-party management. “This statement is completely false and untrue and the Minister has been misinformed!,” Ms. Spence wrote.

She went on to explain why she’s taking her stand against the third-party manager:

1. I do not want an interruption to this fiscal year’s cash flow April 1, 2011 to march 31, 2012

2. Interruption of cash flow would seriously hinder the debt management plan that we currently have in place

3. Interruption of cash flow would prevent us from issuing Social Assistance payments and hence our members would not be able to purchase goods for Christmas Holidays

4. Your office has not established a date to meet to discuss these very concerns as stated in your letter to me December 5, 2011.

In her letter, she proposes a meeting with Mr. Duncan to try to reach a compromise.

“You have my full co-operation. Frame it however you see fit, but not as Third Party Management,” she wrote. “In summary this continued insistence of Third Party Management is causing yet another crisis in our community.”

Expect more questions Monday in the Commons during Question Period about the issue and possibly the minister’s handling of the file.

Reading the post-Durban tea leaves

Megan Leslie, the NDP’s environment critic, is circumspect about the new Durban climate-change deal. She says it “could be a significant step forward.”

But she adds this caveat: “But frankly, if Peter Kent is happy with the deal, it can’t be that good.”

Environment Minister Peter Kent has said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the agreement reached in South Africa after 36 hours of intense negotiations. Basically, it buys time for countries to continue talking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As The Globe’s Geoffrey York reports, “the deal keeps alive the Kyoto Protocol for another five years, but with Europe as the only significant source of emission cuts. It requires the world to negotiate a new legal protocol by 2015 to replace Kyoto, but those rules would not take effect until after 2020.

“And while this historic new protocol would for the first time apply to developing countries such as China and India, they would continue to have fewer obligations than developed nations. That’s something Canada still wants to see changed, Mr. Kent said.”

But Ms. Leslie told The Globe the Conservatives “have been actively trying to disrupt negotiations, and have refused to participate in tackling climate change for the next five years.”

She added: “This doesn’t bode well for this deal. I’m left to wonder how our government will behave when the time comes to sit at the table and hammer out the details.”

Follow on Twitter: @janetaber1

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