Whether It’s General Motors, Ford Or First Nations Chief Theresa Spence, They Should All Be Made Accountable For Every Tax Dollar We Give Them

A Commentary by Niagara At Large Publisher Doug Draper

I find it interesting that at the same time some Canadians are sending comments to this news site and others accusing Native Chief Theresa Spence of using what they consider to be a bogus hunger strike to “blackmail” Prime Minister Stephen Harper into meeting with her and other First Nation representatives, little of the same kind of noise is being made over the many millions of dollars of our tax money Harper is dishing out to multi-billion-dollar auto corporations to keep them from pulling the plug on more plants here.

Cars rolling off a GM plant floor. Autmakers in Canada get plenty of help in grants and tax cuts, but what guarrantee is there they will not pull the plug on plants here the first time they find a place with cheaper wages and more tax cuts elsewhere?

Cars rolling off a GM plant floor. Autmakers in Canada get plenty of help in grants and tax cuts, but what guarrantee is there they will not pull the plug on plants here the first time they find a place with cheaper wages and more tax cuts elsewhere?

Indeed, while much is also being made out of what Chief Spence and her council have done with a reported $90 million or more in government aid they have received since 2006 to improve living conditions in the northern Ontario native community of Attawapiskat – with some going so far as to accuse the chief of gross mismanagement of public funds and even embezzlement – what is going to become of the $250 million Canada’s prime minister and his Conservative government announced this January that they will be giving to General Motors, Ford Chrysler and other auto-related corporations for so-called “research and development and innovation projects?”

Further to that, what happened to all of the billions of dollars in stimulus money and corporate tax cut relief, including the more than $10 billion senior levels of Canadian government gave to General Motors and Chrysler (Ford, to its credit, refused stimulus money) when they needed a bailout five years ago from an impending bankruptcy that was mostly of their corporate captain’s own making? Where did that go, other than to generous annual bonuses some of these corporations continued to bestow up their top executives while those on the factory floor felt forced to take wage and benefit cuts to keep their jobs?

As we saw, the American-based chiefs of General Motors paid the taxpayers of Canada back this December by announcing its decision to move its production lines for its Camaro from Oshawa, Ontario, a long-time GM town, to a plant in Michigan – a move that could cost Oshawa and the rest of the country thousands of decent-paying jobs. And GM announced that decision without offering the governments of Canada and Ontario a word of explanation.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Audit figures reported by CBC raise questions about what she and her inner council did with more than $90 million in government aid.

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Audit figures reported by CBC raise questions about what she and her inner council did with more than $90 million in government aid.

What we are certainly seeing, according to reports in the business pages of almost every established newspaper and magazine in North America, auto corporations, like many others, are able to use poorly conceived ‘free trade’ agreements to pull the plug on a plant in one country or province and state where they feel they aren’t lapping up a rich return for their shareholders, and move to a country, state or province where the costs of wages, etc. are cheaper and where whatever government is in play in those locations buy them over with a more generation package of tax cuts and grant money siphoned from our pockets.

And don’t forget. These days it is also fashionable for federal, state and provincial governments to lure these corporations to their jurisditions by doing everything they can to destroy or diminish the power of labour unions. Unfortunately, union bashing appears to work as a divide-and-rule tactic as unemployed and under-employed people, including people working for poverty wages at toilet-scrubbing, Wal-Mart-type jobs, foolishly say; ‘Oh good, glad to see these people brought down,’ instead of considering the possibility that they might be working 80-hour, seven-day weeks if it weren’t for labour unions.

Call it corporate welfare or call it bribes or blackmails but, again, I find it interesting that there are too many of us out there who seem to be more willing to question what aboriginal leaders are doing with our public dollars and to question complete accountability from them, than they are to demand the same from private corporations that receive far more of our dollars in grants and tax cuts. Why, at the very least, are we not pressing our federal and provincial governments to tie any subsidies to companies to a demonstrated record of creating jobs in this country?

Let me make it clear before I sign off that I’m certainly in favour of demanding the same level of accountability for tax dollars received by aboriginal leader. All I am asking is that we demand the same level of accountability and respect for our tax dollars from private corporations operating here.

Thorough audits should be done regularly and made public to ensure that the money leaders of First Nations community receive are going to the individuals and families in most need, and not disproportionally left in the pockets of a narrow circle of chiefs and their councils.

All I am asking is that we demand the same level of accountability and respect for our tax dollars from private corporations operating here, and that iron-clad rules be made that grants and tax cuts only be given to companies with a continued record of creating decent jobs in Canada. The days of across-the-board grants and tax cuts to corporations on the assumption that they will create jobs must come to an end, and it will likely take a critical mass of Canadians pressing for an end to that practice during elections to make it so.

By the way, you may already know, if you are a CBC listener or viewer, that this January 7, national network is reporting audit figures it has received on Chief Spence and her council’s spending that raise numerous questions. You can learn more by visiting the following link at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2013/01/07/pol-attawapiskat-audit-monday.html . As of a newscast on CBC early this January 7 afternoon, Chief Spence has not yet made herself available to respond to the audit figures.

I think Chief Spence, who has not shied away from much media publicity when it comes to her hunger strike, owes all Canadians who have supported her up to now and have spoken out for better living conditions in her Native community and others an explanation. Don’t you?

(Niagara At Large invites you to share your views on this post alone, remembering that we only post comments on NAL by individuals who also share their first and last name. Anonymous comments or comments with pseudonyms may be accepted on many blog sites. But this site drags them to the trash.)

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18 responses to “Whether It’s General Motors, Ford Or First Nations Chief Theresa Spence, They Should All Be Made Accountable For Every Tax Dollar We Give Them

  1. I have evidence that shows the Harper gov’t is simply running a smear job on the chief, which is expected, given the nature of the regime. I can provide the easily accessible links later. As for the corporations like GM, they play governments like fools because they can. Caterpillar did the same thing: take government handouts and then take off. We need alternate narratives such as the ones Doug is suggesting or this country will continue in the same downward direction. For example, as far as I know, no other developed country would accept (and embrace) so much foreign ownership. And much of the corporate mainstream media is now basically a branch plant PR tool of the regime. One example, people are still led to believe that Harper is a good manager of the economy; despite the huge budgetary deficit, etc. People are also led to believe that neoliberalism and/or globalism is some kind of absolute truth to be passively accepted. Naturally, the corporations love citizen passivity, but no economic theory is an absolute truth. Economics really isn’t a “science”.

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  2. They should be accountable……Ya’ think?

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  3. Just a couple of quick first thoughts on this …

    1 Government should not be giving subsidies to corporations without very strong guarantees of return. If the company fails to live up to agreement, nationalize them immediately (just look at how US Steel screwed Hamilton and the Feds!)

    2: End the welfare mentality that pervades the entire First Nation “industry” I have great respect and admiration for most First Nations peoples. I have little respect for their leaders who screw their own people. Native leaders are just like any other politicians.
    Our native people can and should stand on their own two feet as individuals, just like the rest of us do.

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  4. By the numbers: Here’s some excellent information on Attawapiskat issues.

    http://apihtawikosisan.com/2011/11/30/dealing-with-comments-about-attawapiskat/

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  5. Doug, this is a challenging problem and you can see several similarities here. Both are economic failures and both Chief Spence and the auto corporations have the ability to threaten the Federal Government into giving them millions of dollars.

    I think in the case of Chief Spence she was specifically arguing that her tribe had a desperate problem and the Harper Government wasn’t doing anything to help. The audit might seem like a harsh invasion of privacy but at the same time, what would our society be like if people never had to back up their accusations? Personally, I was shocked when I found out that the tribe wasn’t keeping accurate records of the money they were getting.

    The situation with the auto corporations is probably a bigger can of worms and I think there’s probably two different “truths” here about what’s going on. One is the official speech Harper gave. The other is what the auto industry actually told Harper that convinced him to give them million dollars.

    If they argued that it’s cheaper to build their cars elsewhere and that they wanted to leave Ontario, then certainly I would be interested in knowing the details. But here’s the rub. I’m pretty sure that the auto industry could prove that they could make cars cheaper somewhere else.

    If that’s the case, auditing the car industry wouldn’t solve the problem. Perhaps the real problem is that corporations have the freedom to up and leave anytime they want. At the same time we’re dependent on them to maintain the lifestyles we’re accustomed to.

    For the short term, I wouldn’t be too quick to see this as a unions vs corporations issue. When Harper gave the auto Industry money he’s supporting the unions working at these companies as much as the corporations themselves.

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  6. Having worked as a consultant on native projects I have experienced a very different world view on what is important, what actions are needed, and what matters in accountability. Natives are not invididuals of the European Enlightenment, they are the people who stand together. They disperse funds in accordance with their values. Most native groups do not share the bean counters value of the audit and, as such, often have difficulties with accounting for funds in a manner that we like.
    Have native leaders misused funds? Yes, but for the most part without the practiced sophistication that we immigrants have perfected, but I’m sure some are learning.
    Speaking of sophistry, the audit issue is awfuly convenient for the government…useful in redirecting the public’s attention. What is missed in all the haruuumphing is acknowledging the failure of these audits are as much our failure as it is theirs. It is a cultural disaster of our making and we have not yet come to a place where we can be all that helpful in fixing it.
    It will be interesting to see what comes from today’s court ruling on government responsibility for non-reserve natives and metis.

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  7. Let’s be real! Sometimes people need welfare. There was a time, during the depression, when my parents needed a helping hand. As soon as they were able they moved on and over time gave generously to help others who needed a hand up. They were individuals and families that, at the time, were vulnerable, down and almost out and needed the help.
    Automobile manufacturers on the other hand have shareholders, well-paid employees, significant cash reserves, and other financial resources families like ours, and individuals like us, do not. Indeed, their upper-management people make staggeringly high salaries, apparently even when they fail to lead their companies to profits.
    Whether they are major companies, Native Bands, or individuals, if they receive government money they must be accountable. It’s our money — yours and mine — and we have a right to know whether it is doing what it was intended to do. We already have a case where one of our major car manufacturers is moving to the U.S. despite the huge sums of money we gave them during their recent hard times. The irony is the most successful of the major North American companies at that time, Ford, didn’t take the corporate welfare offered to the others. They knew how to build cars and make a profit! Yet, we funded their competition, which apparently didn’t know how to manage their business very well then — and yet continued to pay huge bonuses and salaries to their upper-most management. This, even though the money we gave would go to compete with the successful Ford firm. The failing “spongers” had other alternatives to funding all that time, too: shareholders, salaried employees, wage-earning employees, and the like who could have done more to save their companies. Or, they, since they didn’t know then how to compete with Ford, should have died and Ford — the better managed company — would have prospered even more for their good management.
    In the case of Attiwapiskat, the money, so it seems was properly owed to the band. And, if I have my facts right, the 1800 people who live there were entitled to the close to 100 million dollars the band received from the Federal Government (the rest of us) tax free! However, the band leaders seem to have mismanaged the funds: funds that, again if I have my facts right, amounted to approximately $55,000 dollars per person ($100 000 000 / 1800 persons=$55, 555) or, if there is an average of 4 persons per home, $220 000 plus per household. Surely that was enough for any Canadian family to build a reasonably nice home on paid-for land and maintain it from 2008 until now. Yet, the band leadership has done very well for itself while the band members live in poor housing with paltry incomes.
    In the case of the corporate welfare I’ve mentioned, and the leadership of the Attiwapiskat band, there must be accountability that appears to be currently lacking. Not only the recipients of Federal Government money should account for it, but the government which gave it should do so as well.
    Seems the auto manufacturers are paying back their welfare money. Will the leadership of Attiwapiskat do so as well? Surely, the band members shouldn’t just be angry at the Federal Government — which should have been watching all along — but be raging at their band leaders. Where has all the money gone? Not just band members but all Canadians have a right to know.
    We also have a right to know what will happen to Harper’s very generous fund to keep “cars rolling off a GM plant floor” and the assembly lines of other plants. Automakers in Canada do get plenty of help in grants and tax cuts, but what guarantee is there they will not pull the plug – as GM recently did — on plants here the first time they find a place with cheaper wages and more tax cuts elsewhere?
    For certain, some people will from time to time need help. You and I may be among them in the future. But do we need to give welfare to the wealthiest among us? It’s our money and we need to insure it is well spent. Indeed, I even believe you and I can do a better job of spending our money ourselves!! Certainly, I expect my government to show me they do.

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  8. Out of sight, out of mind. Harper sent an accountant to deal with this housing emergency. No wonder we’re being condemned and monitored by international humanitarian agencies.

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    • Clearly, realistically the Prime Minister would not go himself. He does have a Cabinet. He would naturally send a subordinate. Notwithstanding, an accountant is better able to check the books and whether they have been “cooked”. Harper, at best, is an economist. Judging by the nation’s deficit, perhaps not a good one at that. The fact is, something is wrong in the books and answers should be forthcoming. How does a band leader do so well financially (was it a family income of over $275 000?) while her people do so poorly?
      To want answers, however we get them from any group that gets tax dollars, is not politically incorrect. I am surprised the band members are not crying for the facts about the spending on the reserve. They are the loosers if the money was poorly spent. They deserve better than they seem to be getting from either the Federal government or their band leadership.

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  9. A few more thoughts:
    1: To Dick Halverson — you said: “Most native groups do not share the bean counters value of the audit and, as such, often have difficulties with accounting for funds in a manner that we like.”
    My response: too bad, so sad! Those are the tax dollars that I worked hard to provide! I do not begrudge my tax dollars going to help those in need, but they damn well better provide a proper accounting of how those dollars are used or else they can bugger off! Enough of the welfare without responsibility.
    2: Check the Toronto Star for the latest on Ms Spence … now she is demanding that the Governor-General attend the meeting she wants with PM Harper. She is causing more damage to the native cause than anyone I have seen in many years! She and her boyfriend have bled the people of Attiwapiskat for years, and now they want the rest of us to kiss their a**!

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  10. http://apihtawikosisan.com/2011/11/30/dealing-with-comments-about-attawapiskat/

    The chief’s salary and other info. is disclosed in the above link. But the audit issue is a red herring. The issue is that the government is bound by the Constitution of Canada to secure the prior, informed and accommodated consent of First Nations peoples prior to enacting legislation that impacts treaties. The Harper government failed to do so, and continues to fail to do so. Bill C-45 was the latest piece of legislation where the government did not secure the First Nations’ peoples prior informed consent. In particular, the Navigable Protection Act violates treaties.

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  11. Mark is right! However, “red herring” or not, there seems to be a lack of accountability and serious inequities within the band community. There is a serious lack, in my view, of transparency. That the Conservatives would try to circumvent their obligations comes as no surprise. They even neglected their responsibility to oversee how band monies were spent, at least until political realities inspired them to have the closer look they should have had long ago.
    There are, indeed, two issues here. Both are important. The government seems wrong in both cases. That is not to say, band leadership is not wrong in one.
    In either case the federal Conservatives and the band leadership have been letting down the people of Attiwapiskat. Is there a need for ethics training here?
    Thanks for the clarification Mark.

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  12. I am so sick and tired of all the crap about “Idle no more” and Occupy movements. Damn it all, get off your asses and stop demanding handouts!
    I am no fan of SUN tv … but there is so much truth in this …

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  13. Ezra is a hate-mongering **** who has no respect for the truth. Anyone who still denies man-made global warming is in the scientific dark ages. He’s a corporate shill and a diservice to civil society and Canada. People who don’t believe in “Idle No More and Occupy crap” are losing their democratic rights by the day, which is exactly what the transnational corporations want.
    The entities getting the handouts are the corporations, and they quietly sit on their cash hordes or transfer them to tax havens. Their self-interest does not serve the country or democracy. Corporations were never intended to govern, but that is what’s happening. The “hand-outs” and “lazy people” racism lines are what the corporate regime wants. Divide and conquer. Feed the hate.

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  14. Why is it when you suspect Chief Spence of misspending money you are called a racists? Is it because she is First Nation? Has a First Nation Chief never been caught with their hand in the money jar? Toronto currently has a mayor about to loss his job( maybe) because of using office letter head to raise money for his football team, and the estimated waste of paper is around $3500. But let’s face it, politicians are politicians no matter what colour the skin. Maybe she did take the money and maybe she didn’t, but the people of Attawapiskat deserve to know the truth and to have a leader they can trust to manage the finances. But maybe Attawapiskat is getting better. Looking at the audit there appears fewer incomplete transactions I under Spence’s tenure.
    Now Mr Taliano is right, the Sun isn’t the best news out fit and Erza is as guilty of sensationalizing the story against Spence as the other outlets have in favour of Spence (I’ve lost count how many times he remarked about her weight justifying it by saying he was chubby too), but Erza has stated several times that he is for INM. Just not for Spence, obviously he doubts her veracity. As for the audit being a distraction, well that would have been true expect for the fact that Spence and the PM knew about the findings in Sept 2012,and it was going to be released on 16 Jan 2013 anyway (could be why Spence tried to bump the meeting up when it was first proposed to be held on the 24th).
    INM is great in a lot of ways. It is landmark in Canadian history of FN working together (although the Chiefs are still finding it hard to agree on much of the issues, I really don’t envy Atleo at all. He must have the hardest job in Parliment than another person). It’s put the government under the microscope for all Canadians. And perhaps it will finally jump start the process of getting rid of the Indian Act and treating FN like true citizens as well as bringing transparency to all elected officials, whether in Ottawa, a city or reserve.
    People need to remember several points:
    1. This is for all Canadians not just FN.
    2. Dictating demands cannot and should not be tolerated from any side.
    3. Criticizing the government is a right, regardless of the colour of the skin of the politician or the citizen critisizing them.

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