Cuts at Aboriginal Affairs an opportunity to improve spending efficiency

Commentary, Aboriginal Futures, Joseph Quesnel

First Nation leaders are expressing alarm over expected budget cuts at Aboriginal Affairs.

Some leaders are calling for “doom and gloom” scenarios as Aboriginal Affairs is not expected to be spared as the federal government seeks to find $4 billion in annual savings across 67 departments.

Apparently, Aboriginal Affairs officials are preparing scenarios where either five or 10 per cent is cut from the department.

What has not helpful is the lack of candour from the federal Aboriginal Affairs minister about the cuts.

But, looking at spending may force Aboriginal Affairs to find efficiencies to re-direct funds to where they are needed most. There is no reason to automatically assume front line services for First Nation community members will suffer.

In 2008, the Institute for Governance- an Ottawa-based non-partisan think tank, found that accountability mechanisms for funds distributed to band councils were dysfunctional.  That study said that about 83 per cent of the Aboriginal Affairs (then Indian Affairs) budgets went to band councils, so there is room to find efficiencies. A program review could also determine value for money spent and trim programs that were not working.

Less bureaucracy and more streamlined front line services, including more directed help in the area of economic development, would go a long way. Finding ways to unlock unrealized own source revenues on reserves is always a good strategy for finding permanent ways to cut the Aboriginal Affairs budget.

In 2010, First Nation Quebec Senator Patrick Brazeau revealed how over a five-year period, five national Aboriginal organizations received $239 million, with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) receiving the lion’s share. Thus, if the government wants to trim, it should seek efficiencies in those groups and cut any duplication.

That way the debate isn’t just about the Aboriginal Affairs bureaucracy, but the Aboriginal bureaucracy too.