Nation to Nation
Federal opposition MPs say Liberal members on the Indigenous Affairs committee are blocking them from calling staff from the Privy Council Office (PCO) to testify on how it is handling administrative and financial requests from the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“We had the interim report,” Conservative MP Cathy McLeod told Nation to Nation host Todd Lamirande. “My colleague (Arnold Viersen) said we need to get the PCO here to explain what is happening and perhaps inquire a little more into it and certainly whenever he brings it up… he gets shut down.
“That is the job of a committee to look at what’s happening.”
The inquiry’s interim report outlined 10 issues that it considered “significant challenges” to operating smoothly – two involved the PCO.
“On average it takes four months to hire new staff,” said the interim report. “We must also follow Privy Council Office’s (PCO) requirement for security clearances. As a result, once the National Inquiry has decided to hire someone, it takes an average of five weeks for the security process to be complete before the National Inquiry can make a formal offer.
“This has seriously obstructed our ability to do our work in a timely way.”
Another concern is the situation with setting up offices. In some locations, it took months of red tape to get office space rented and furnished, including computers.
“Federal government procurement and contracting policies resulted in up to eight months’ delay before offices could be opened,” the commissioners wrote in the report. “Even then, offices opened without proper telephone, internet, and office equipment.”
NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson told Nation to Nation that the commissioners were hired to do the work of listening to families – and said none of them thought they were going to have to be information technology experts.
“We don’t want to undermine the commissioners,” Malcolmson said. “But we want the government to keep its promise to make the inquiry as well as it can.”
According to Malcolmson and Mcleod, the Liberals on the committee have voted to defer the matter ever since.
Liberal Don Rusnak, who is the parliamentary secretary for the minister of Indigenous Services, and a non-voting member of the committee, said the issue isn’t closed.
“The committee is a master of its own destiny,” he said. “But I think (the vote) is coming up shortly.”
Neither member of the opposition was buying that.
“It’s pretty quick and easy to say ‘yes, let’s do a quick vote.’ We need to get the PCO here for a meeting,” said McLeod. “To talk about what’s going on so to say that they haven’t voted yet and keep voting to defer it is a little disingenuous.”
Malcolmson said the Liberals on the committee are taking the matter one step further.
“I was on the Indigenous Affairs committee this week – I was fairly stunned actually how fast the Liberal majority on committee said ‘no, we closed debate we don’t even want to discuss this’ then they tried to go in-camera, no justification to go in-camera, to talk about the role of the Privy Council Office administering funds for the inquiry,” she said.
“What do they have to hide? I’ve never seen another committee be so protective of this parliamentary bureaucracy.”
The PCO is a non-partisan wing of government bureaucracy and is located in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) across from Parliament Hill.
It gives advice to cabinet and logistical support to departments for matters such as inquiries.
It’s not out of the ordinary to have its staff called to testify at a committee.
In June, a number of bureaucrats from PCO testified before the Public Accounts committee on a number of issues including the MMIWG inquiry.
Kami Ramcharan, assistant deputy minister of corporate services at the PCO told members of the committee that her office provides all the financial, human resources and procurement to ensure the money the inquiry spends follows the rules.
Ramcharan said the PCO has two dedicated people within the department who do nothing else but process procurement requests, or payment requests for the inquiry.
“We’ve had enough resources within the PCO budget to be able to pay for expenditures related to the commission up to this point so they have not been without resources available for what they would need in terms of doing it,” she said.
“Have they had full access? Absolutely.”
But there have also been concerns from families, and the inquiry, about people being paid out for travel, and other expenses.
Ramcharan said the PCO has guidelines to follow – and paperwork needs to be done.
“In terms of examples related to payments not being made on time, I know there have been some challenges,” she said. “We won’t just say someone’s going to go and travel, and they’ve spent $100. We actually need to see the authority for that spending to happen, we need to see the receipts associated, and we have to have all of those checks and balances in place before we can issue the money.
“There have been challenges from the people who, say, travel for the advisory committee meetings, for the hearings, to get their information in together, to get it signed off through the commission structure into PCO for us to then turn it around.”
Maryann Mihychuk, chair of the committee, did not respond to APTN’s request for comment.
Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott will go before the committee Nov. 30.
N2N’s political panel discussed Justice Minister Jody Wilson Raybould’s announcement.
She announced her government’s support of Bill C-262.
It’s a private member’s bill sponsored by NDP MP Romeo Saganash.
It seeks to have the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People fully implemented by the Canadian government.