Under the circumstances, it’s actually a little surprising that it took this long. Through a convenient leak to the state broadcaster, presumably from the government, evidence has surfaced that hunger strike chief Theresa Spence’s Attawapiskat First Nation does a terrible job of keeping their books. An internal audit which the government ordered last winter, during the reserve’s housing crisis, has been mysteriously released to the public just at a time when Spence was gaining widespread public attention through her hunger strike.
Now, first of all, it’s not good to see any elected leader apparently responsible for very serious fiscal mismanagement. Assuming the audit report is genuine, this would appear to be evidence that the Attawapiskat government is guilty on that just charge. Sixth Estate’s position on such matters is well known: elected leaders who abuse the public trust should be turfed, unceremoniously and expeditiously.
There are, however, three extremely disturbing elements of this story, which the media, in its salivating frenzy to humiliate its selected victim, is gleefully overlooking. The first is simply factual. A quick trip to Wikipedia shows that Spence has only been chief since August 2010. (She was deputy chief for a couple of years before that.) Yet the government audit started in April 2005 and ran to November 2011. So the new outrage seems a little bit like claiming that Stephane Dion or Justin Trudeau are responsible for the sponsorship scandal.
Second, and more importantly, this is a more obvious instance than most in which “anonymous leaks” are a very dubious way to operate the free press. Who leaked this story? It seems hard to imagine it was anyone other than a member of the government hoping to embarrass a political opponent from behind the defensive shield of anonymity provided for them, free of charge, by the media. Sixth Estate and other bloggers are repeatedly attacked by the media for using pen names, since if you don’t use your real name, it opens the door to making baseless attacks against defenceless opponents. Apparently journalists do not feel that the same ethic need apply in their own work.
But one has to ask about the intentions of the leaker. The Canadian right — indeed, the Canadian mainstream — really did not need any further persuading: judging from the editorial stances of almost all major newspapers in this country, they already think that Spence is an egotistical attention-grabber with no legitimate claims. Spence has already been accused of everything from blackmail to terrorism on the pages of the nation’s media; in contrast, accusing her of failing to save all of her receipts is actually a surprisingly petty charge. Harper had already conceded to a meeting. This leak will probably only further polarize Canadians, which may well have been the intention.
The second element of hypocrisy is even more extraordinary. Contrary to what the braying sycophants in the press corps seem to think, unless you are an Attawapiskat Cree, what Spence’s government has been doing with federal grant money is irrelevant to you. It’s not your money. That money was given to the Attawapiskat First Nation, prior to the housing crisis, and it would have been provided regardless of who was in charge. The Attawapiskat now need to take up with their own government the issue of serious fiscal mismanagement, and act accordingly. The rest of us do not have a horse in this game. Sorry.
The reason I make this point is that when similar fiscal shenanigans are documented on the part of the federal government that is answerable to the rest of us, the people who are so angry about Spence are mysteriously and notably muted in their criticism. As just one example, take the G8 Legacy Infrastructure Fund. This $50 million grant pool actually started in the budget as a border security improvement project. Under Industry Minister Tony Clement, it was recast as an infrastructure subsidy fund, and all of the money then vanished, almost without a trace, into his own riding, in exchange for gazebos and other trinkets. The Auditor-General attempted to investigate, but could not fully complete her investigation because no paperwork on the grants process survived and the departments she contacted all denied that they had been involved in that process altogether.
You might think that evidence of such scandalous misuse of public funds — burning up on a two-day Toronto conference in an unrelated cottage-country riding half of what the Attapiskat Cree received over five years in the lead-up to the recently leaked audit — would put a dent in the good minister’s career prospects. After all, people rightly seem to think the audit raises questions about Theresa Spence’s leadership credibility.
If you thought that, though, you would be wrong. Tony Clement didn’t get fired, or even demoted, for the gazebo slush fund. Instead, he got promoted to President of the Treasury Board, a position which now puts him in nominal charge of all government accounts. This promotion passed with hardly more than a sleepy yawn from the press. The gazebo slush fund got a few days of commentary, but reporters let it go quickly enough. Nobody really seemed to care, then or since.
So the question is: is Spence’s fiscal mismanagement worse because she is an Indian, or because she isn’t a Conservative? It must be one of those, or we wouldn’t be getting the howls of outrage from the right-wing media that we are now getting. Canadians deserve to know which one.