Mr. Speaker, I am going to talk about the throne speech and aboriginal affairs today, but I would like to make reference to the last question and comment period.
Being from the province of British Columbia, we have had ongoing concern about grow operations, the production of B.C. bud as it is called. This has had a major impact on our economy and is something that the RCMP now described as an activity that is tearing at the social fabric of our province. We have had raids on our provincial legislature. We have had suggestions of some very criminal behaviour and money laundering reaching into the highest ranks of our provincial and/or our federal government representatives. All of this went completely unaddressed in the throne speech.
This is most inappropriate and is something that must be taken seriously by members of this government. Their behaviour, attitude and approach on this issue is the same as it is on the issue I wish to address today, which is aboriginal affairs. The government would rather bury problems and preserve the status quo than expose, fix and improve the agenda.
This would have major implications of course for the things Liberals pay lip service to in the throne speech and have paid lip service to every year dating back to the 1993 Liberal red book. That is children are to get a better start in life and the government will provide real economic opportunities, individuals will participate fully and we will have improved governance in first nation communities and so on.
The specificity is interesting. The attempt to say anything more than those nice words was much greater a year ago in the throne speech than it is this year. Even though this was touted as a throne speech where there would be a lot of attention paid to aboriginals, there are actually less specific commitments than there were one year ago, which was not considered to be a throne speech which paid attention to aboriginal issues.
As someone who has been in the aboriginal affairs portfolio for the official opposition during the period 1994 to 1997 and once again from June of last year, I have certainly seen my share of throne speeches. The very first throne speech I was present at and accounted for was in 1994 after the 1993 election. At that time the government made a commitment to turn over the Ipperwash site to the Kettle and Stoney Point Band.
That promise had far-reaching implications. DND was physically forced out by confrontation. We all know the story about Dudley George who was shot and killed by the Ontario Provincial Police. We know about the ongoing inquiry. Ten years later, this is all still going on. Throne speeches have important implications at times, and that was certainly something set in motion at that time.
The aboriginal section of the 1993 red book and this throne speech are somewhat similar. We have heard other members say this in their response to the throne speech. One of the statements in this throne speech is this one: “conditions in far too many Aboriginal communities can only be described as shameful”. It states that we must “turn the corner” now.
If so, why is there such a lack of specifics, and why did the only specific measures create more bureaucracy? The government established an independent centre for first nations government and established a new cabinet committee on aboriginal affairs. This is continuing lip service to the 1993 commitments regarding transparency and accountability. These are nice sentiments, but what this throne speech does is create more bureaucracy. The taxpayer pays and the results remain the same. We have a lot of evidence of that, which I wish to talk to.
Despite the ongoing scandal at the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation, which was first documented by Health Canada in a 1997 audit, the culture of massive financial abuse at the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada continues.
I have some very important things I would like to highlight from the recently released audit summary for the Virginia Fontaine centre at Sagkeeng First Nation. I wish to do that because it is a horrifying tale that makes one wonder if the federal government has any controls at all on behaviour, including the spending of millions of dollars of taxpayer funds that had been earmarked supposedly to improve aboriginal quality of life and other things that sound very nice, but which has led to enriching the few individuals involved in setting up what essentially amounted to a huge scam as opposed to something that was benefiting the people at large.
Here we have a centre that was audited in 1997, with major problems identified, and with which in 1999 the federal government entered into a new funding arrangement without fixing the old problems, with a set of directors that included three brothers and a daughter on a board of directors that included only three other individuals, one of whom for sure is a direct beneficiary of working as the chief financial officer. This was virtually a proprietary operation by a family, with Perry Fontaine in the chair; Keith Fontaine, the brother; Phil Fontaine, another brother; and Vera Bruyere, the daughter of Perry Fontaine, the chair.
What is most amazing is that we have an audit that has led to many charges by the RCMP, but this audit covers only the period from October 1, 1999, to February 28, 2002, while we know there were major problems identified in an earlier audit, not made public, dating to pre-1997. We know that 20 years of financial records were destroyed under the previous health minister, who is now conveniently no longer here, and under the previous deputy minister, who is now conveniently no longer here and has been appointed Governor of the Bank of Canada.
The suspicion is that tens of millions of dollars have basically gone AWOL and the government has no interest in exposing and fixing those problems because it does not believe it is in its best interests to do that. So far the only people who are being held accountable are not responsible bureaucrats. The only people being held accountable are bureaucrats who were on the take.
We have a corporate culture that entered into an agreement with a branch of Health Canada. The auditors speak in surgical, clinical language:
The management culture was dominated by Perry Fontaine with virtually no checks or restraints placed on his actions by the Board of Directors or other management.
The board in essence rubber-stamped Perry Fontaine's decisions. None of that should be a surprise, given the makeup of the board. The government officials had to have known the relationship of all of those people and they were flowing millions of dollars, close to $12 million in this audit period alone, through that group.
Three major consultants were paid in this period of time. They were paid upfront and provided no invoices, and there is little or no evidence that they completed the services required under the contracts. These consultant contracts were managed, by their own admission, solely by Perry Fontaine, the chair of the board, so we had consultants in name only enriching the pockets of the chair of the board. In the case of one of the consulting contracts, its principal, Keith Fontaine, indicated he provided no services for many of the contracts and the funds flowed to his brother, Perry. The owner of one of the other consulting companies is Randall Fontaine, another brother. States the report, “The value of services received from [that contractor] is questionable”. Those are the words the auditor used.
As I mentioned, $12 million in federal funding flowed through in that short audit period alone. The tale of horrors continues. There were seven flowthrough arrangements from the federal government, five of which were with Health Canada.
Here are some of the other abuses. During October 1999 through October 2000, four trips were paid for by the foundation where Perry Fontaine, the chair, and Paul Cochrane, who is the Health Canada official purportedly in charge, and their families travelled together. A rather cozy, close relationship, I would say, and totally against Treasury Board guidelines.
These trips included trips to Florida, the Caribbean, Bermuda, San Juan and St. Maarten, at a cost of $71,500. The cost related to the Health Canada bureaucrat, Mr. Cochrane, was $11,000, and nothing was recorded as owing by him to the foundation at any time. There were further cruises after that period of time. There were four season's tickets to the Ottawa Senators and for selected concerts at the Corel Centre for a total value of $63,000. Although these were in the name of Perry Fontaine, information obtained indicates these tickets were split with Paul Cochrane and delivered to Cochrane's house, and Paul Cochrane retained control of the tickets.
The cozy relationship continues. The approving federal bureaucrat and Mr. Cochrane's son confirmed that Perry Fontaine presented him and his girlfriend with an all-inclusive travel package to the Dominican Republic. The son was involved in the preparation of a proposal that resulted in a $600,000 one time contribution from Health Canada to the foundation, approved by who else, Paul Cochrane, his father. The son was further rewarded with a 2000 Nissan Xterra, purchased new by Perry Fontaine in February 2000 and transferred to the son of Paul Cochrane in May 2000.
We have a statement that Perry Fontaine said he sold this and another vehicle to Paul Cochrane in return for two promissory notes totalling $50,000, neither of which has been repaid. However, Mr. Fontaine declined to provide copies of the notes as he regards these transactions as personal. Mr. Cochrane confirmed that he did make this purchase but provided no details.
So suddenly public money becomes somebody's personal business and we have no way to get to the bottom of it. That displays to me that there is no interest on the part of the federal government when it transfers taxpayers' money in actually ensuring that it is able to be audited. This is a major problem and one we would identify and change. We are not going to allow personal agendas or abuses to manage the expenditure of public moneys.
There were further transactions entered into between the foundation and Perry Fontaine. The report states, “Given that Perry Fontaine was the decision maker for [the foundation], these agreements were effectively negotiated between Perry Fontaine and himself”. And let me say they were very lucrative indeed for Mr. Fontaine.
During the period from September 1999 to February 2002, the foundation provided at least $1,196,000 to Perry Fontaine through payments to him or on his behalf. Please note, the auditor points out, that Mr. Fontaine's company, O.A.G. Consultants, “also received another $308,000 of Health Canada funding through payments from companies owned by his brother Keith...”, and it goes on.