“Officials at ‘Indigenous Affairs’ are continuing to block questions to Minister Carolyn Bennett on the fate of her party’s $2.6 billion promise on ‘First Nation’ education — which was based on money that didn’t exist…
“In an interview following her appearance before the Commons ‘Aboriginal affairs’ committee, Bennett refused to answer questions from an ‘APTN National News’ reporter on whether the Liberal government found the expected leftover funds on which the party based its education promise.
“I think we, what are we saying? There are, I don’t know whether I can say”, said Bennett. “We are going to make sure it’s funded properly and we’ll find the details…”
“Helene Laurendeau, the department’s associate deputy minister, said “the answer will be on the 22nd”, referring to the federal budget’s March 22 release date.
“Laurendeau will become the deputy minister of Bennett’s department on April 4.
“A ‘Globe and Mail’ report quoting an anonymous government source surfaced Thursday evening, saying the Liberal government failed to find the money on which the party based its ‘First Nation’ education promise.
“This is not the first time officials intervened to block questions to Bennett on the education promise. APTN asked Bennett about the promised money on the sidelines of an education forum held in Ottawa late last month. Bennett at the time said she wasn’t sure how to answer the question and was shielded from follow-ups by her director of communications, Carolyn Campbell.
“Campbell assured APTN that Bennett’s office would provide details on the issue later that day, but she then refused to follow through with her promise.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a splash while campaigning last August promising that his party would invest $2.6 billion into core ‘First Nation’ education.
“That promise, however, hinged on the belief that the Conservatives left $1.7 billion on the books for ‘First Nation’ education. The Liberals would add $900 million to the total if they took power, Trudeau said at the time…
“The NDP immediately attacked the Liberals over the promise, saying it had a $1.7 billion hole…
“The minister’s staff have also cancelled two scheduled interviews with ‘APTN National News’.”
–‘Indigenous Affairs’ Minister Bennett avoids questions on education promise’,
Jorge Barrera, APTN, March 11, 2016
“Last Thursday, while the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was being feted with the pomp and luxury of a state dinner in Washington D.C., his government quietly leaked the fact that the Liberal platform had underfunded its promise to ‘First Nations’ youth by as much as $1.7 billion.
“It was such a masterful stroke of political damage control by communications staffers that its release was spun into a headline entitled “Trudeau Looking to Improve State of First Nations Education”, and only the journalists at APTN have taken the time to seriously dig into the fiscal sleight of hand.
“…the Liberal plan relied on $1.7 billion of pre-existing funding over the 2016-17 to 2019-20 period that could not be guaranteed. No other political party’s platform relied on this pot of money, nor was there any indication of its existence in the three primary sets of government fiscal documentation: the ‘Main Estimates’, the ‘Public Accounts’, or the ‘Reports on Plans and Priorities’. Even if it were to exist, there was no guarantee that the money had not been re-profiled over a much longer time horizon.
“In response to these concerns, the Liberals called New Democrats “desperate,” and argued that they were “mak[ing] false claims” that couldn’t be “further from the truth.” It turns out those New Democrats…were right—and a staggering gap of up to $1.7 billion in the plan for ‘First Nations’ education funding remains…
“Sadly, within six months of its election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government appears to be laying the groundwork to break an enormously important promise.
“This is part of a growing series of substantial costing errors from the Liberal campaign, and it’s symptomatic of a platform that wasn’t rigorously costed or analyzed by experts or the media. Certainly, it is an indicator that journalists should always question costings that rely on pots of money that cannot be clearly identified…
“At the end of the day, the Prime Minister or, at the very least, the minister of ‘Indigenous’ and Northern Affairs owes ‘First Nations’ an apology. They owe an apology to those who tried to raise the alarm on this startling funding hole, but were instead denigrated and mocked for their concerns. They need to identify why the Department of Finance has been spreading confusing and contradictory information on the topic, and clarify the situation.
“And, most importantly, they need to do right by the ‘First Nations’ children who may continue to suffer because Liberal staffers struggled to understand the nation’s finances. Instead of putting the communications spin doctors on the job of playing down expectations, the officials at the Department of Finance should be hard at work to find the $2.6 billion in funding promised. If they don’t, it’s on the Prime Minister.”
–‘Can the Liberals keep their promise to ‘First Nations’ youth?’
Rob Gillezeau, Maclean’s, March 19, 2016
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