Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Andy Scott Blows His Job

Andy Scott, our Indian Affairs minister, has got a cloud hanging over him. Witness this exchange in yesterday's Hansard:

Mr. Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Keeseekoose is a small first nation in Saskatchewan. In the time between 1995 and 2001, over $600,000 was systematically looted from its education fund. The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development has known about this since 2002 and this minister has known since he was appointed, but the minister refuses to help the new chief and council get to the bottom of this.

What is the minister hiding? Why will he not produce a forensic audit that shows who stole the Keeseekoose children's trust fund?

Hon. Andy Scott (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for MĂ©tis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, audits are conducted routinely. If those audits find things that should go to the RCMP or other agencies, that is exactly what happens.

Note that Mr. Scott's response is an indirect answer and not a direct one. The fact that he couches this in generalizations, however, suggests that a) there was no audit available; or b) he doesn't know if an audit was in fact authorized by his department. Given the typical size of federal ministries, b) is the more likely answer.

Moving on:

Mr. Jim Prentice: Mr. Speaker, all we hear from the minister is excuses and obfuscation. The current chief and council want to find out who stole their education money. The minister will not help them.

Will the minister admit today that he is trying to protect the former chief because he was the chief when the money was stolen and because he was the Prime Minister's Liberal candidate in the last federal election? Is this why the minister will not produce a forensic audit?

Hon. Andy Scott: Mr. Speaker, that allegation is absolutely ridiculous.

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Mr. Quewezance, the former chief, was president of the St. Phillip's Rangers hockey team when it received repeated direct transfers from the school account. He knew what was going on and the Liberals recruited him to run as their candidate in 2004 while failing to investigate complaints made to Indian affairs about this matter in 2002.

The Liberals have hit a new low in stealing money from schoolchildren while protecting one of their own from investigation. Is this the new standard of ethics the Prime Minister promised us in 2004: nominating candidates who steal money from schoolchildren and then covering it up?

Hon. Andy Scott: Mr. Speaker, the new low is across on the other side. That is a ridiculous and scandalous thing to say.

Notice his response: Ridiculous. Scandalous. There is, however, one word that Mr. Scott does not use: untrue.

You cannot make an accusation go away merely by calling it names. There are a number of ways in which Mr. Scott could have responded: he could have said that an audit was ongoing and that he couldn't comment on the matter because of it; he could have said the Opposition theory had no basis in fact (which is technically true, because much of this theory depends on optics and spin); he could have said this was the first time he personally had heard of it and would arrange for an audit to start; or he could have invited Mr. Prentice to re-state his theory outside the chamber (thereby inviting a legal accusation of slander).

But no. This question caught Mr. Scott by surprise, and as a result his responses are weak, and can be seen as weak. It's unfortunate that he's been in this post for just slightly over a year -- hardly long enough to appreciate all the problems of Aboriginal governance -- but even so, as a Minister he should have been able to mount a better defence than this.

And with new allegations of mismanagement of reserve water resources, the case can be made that Mr. Scott has a poor grasp of the Indian Affairs portfolio. He, along with Revenue Minister John McCallum, will be on the list of overripe electoral prunes: those Ministers who must wage the next campaign handicapped not only by Liberal Party wrongdoing, but their own misperformances as well.