Thursday, November 17, 2005

Keeseekoose: Andy Scott Keeps Blowing It

Our Indian affairs minister Andy Scott has hit upon a new tactic for dealing with the Keeseekoose scandal. He's trying to misdirect anger by accusing the Tories of racism.

Mr. Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North, CPC): Mr. Speaker, on Monday the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was questioned about the Keeseekoose education trust account of $600,000, which has now been stolen. At the time, he said that the allegations were ridiculous. By Tuesday, according to the minister, those ridiculous allegations had become serious financial irregularities with the RCMP involved and, in addition, criminal charges being laid. The minister is having some difficulty getting his story straight.

We know that his department has audit documents about the theft. He is refusing to produce them. Is he trying to protect the former chief, the former Liberal candidate?

Hon. Andy Scott (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, whether the Conservatives like it or not, first nations governments take matters of accountability very seriously. That is exactly what we have seen in this case. Where irregularities were found, the police were informed and charges were laid. What we see from the other side shows once again that these Conservatives will do anything to discredit first nations, their leadership and their members.

Now, why would Mr. Scott make this accusation? Part of it relies on the fact that the Conservative platform on aboriginal affairs is pretty badly defined. If you look at the national Tory website, you'll see that aboriginal affairs is not listed as a major issue. You have to click on "Policy Declaration" to get to "Aboriginal Affairs," which reveals a somewhat legalistic document outlining the Tory position. (What the actual platform boils down to is: better spending rules for government programs targeted at aboriginals; transfer more decision-making powers of governance to the local level; settle land claims with an process open to the public; and offer school choice to Aboriginal families. Nothing to hint at the paternalistic racism that Mr. Scott seems to believe in.)

Mr. Scott is obviously relying on an old meme: Tory = social conservative = redneck = racist = anti-aboriginal. The subsequent exchange shows why it's not going to work:

Mr. Prentice: Mr. Speaker, the chief at the time of the theft was the Liberal candidate, but in fairness, I am not surprised that the minister is confused. It is difficult for all Canadians to actually keep a clear picture of which Liberals are under RCMP investigation and which are not, which have been convicted and which have not, and which have been banned from the party for life and which have not.

Would the government consider establishing a sort of Liberal offender registry, a criminal registry that the public could consult from time to time and which the minister could use?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, I said it before and I will say it again ... Canadians know a smear campaign when they see it. Canadians know how those members feel about first nations and their leadership. Here we go again.

Unfortunately for Mr. Scott, even though Kashechewan and other reserves water problems have made the news, they haven't penetrated very far onto the public agenda.

The second problem is that, with Liberal credibility on governance as badly damaged as it is, they no longer have as strong an ability to define their opponent's platform for them. Canadians know a smear campaign when they see it, all right; they also know when it's a Liberal doing the smearing. And if Canadians know it -- and recognize it -- it means the smear has failed.

Yet it seems that Mr. Scott likes this failed smear so much he's going to stick right with it:

Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, CPC): Mr. Speaker, apparently the new Liberal education policy involves paying for California vacations out of a schoolchild's education fund. I ask members to listen to this list of money taken from the Keeseekoose school account: $1,200 for Sea World, $158 for Zorro Jewelry of Santa Monica, $125 for Universal Studios. In total, this is over $3,000 stolen from the children on the reserve to pay for a California vacation.

Why will the minister not stand up for the schoolchildren of the Keeseekoose reserve?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, this government is standing up for education and first nations. That is the reason why we are going to Kelowna at the end of this month. That is what people who really care about first nations do, not this.

Apparently Mr. Scott believes that bringing up examples of mismanagement in First Nations communities is NOT something that "people who really care about First Nations do." By this reasoning, a problem is not a problem if you don't hear about it. This is an attitude that can only lead to a mess like Kashechewan.

He also apparently shares Paul Martin's confusion that activity equals action. The upcoming First Nations summit is a big meeting, but its importance really depends on two things: on what's actually decided, and what actual actions the federal government will take regardless of who's in charge. If nothing is decided, then the summit will be rightly condemned as a waste of time and money, by First Nations leaders loudest of all.

Saskatchewn MP Tom Lukiwski has picked up on the Minister's attitude, as you can see:

Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, CPC): Mr. Speaker , I do not think the minister understands how serious the situation is. On one day alone over $6,000 was stolen from the school's account: $2,000 was withdrawn at Casino Regina and $4,000 was transferred to a local hockey team. The local Liberal candidate was the president of that hockey team.

To make matters worse, the Liberals knew about this theft before they nominated the candidate who is at the heart of this controversy. Will the minister confirm today that he will conduct a full investigation of this matter? Or is this simply another Liberal cover-up?

The Minister: Mr. Speaker, the RCMP has been brought in and has dealt with the issue. The reality is that in this case those members are smearing first nations leadership. That is typical of the Conservative Party and the first nations leadership itself will not stand for it.

Actually, reading the questions carefully, we can see that all three Tories don't dwell on the fact that the allegations are against a First Nations leader; they dwell instead on the fact that the leader was a Liberal Party member, with the understated hint of corruption. That idea has a stronger hold on the public consciousness than Mr. Scott's implied accusations of racism.

The failed smear also shows that Mr. Scott is devoting more thought to holding his seat in the upcoming election, than to actually doing his job as Minister. Since the matter is before the courts, he could have taken the line that the matter shouldn't be discussed in Question Period lest it contaminate the judicial proceedings. That would have been ministerial, and a correct response.

The fact that Mr. Scott responded in a partisan manner, instead of a ministerial one, is enough to make me wonder if he really is as committed to his portfolio as he should be.