, 04.16.2018 07:46 AM

Column: is this worth $2,119 an hour?

July 2017: the Assembly of First Nations have gathered for their 38th general assembly in downtown Regina.

Thousands of indigenous people from across Canada are in attendance. Along with speeches, seminars and cultural events, there is a trade show.

Dozens of businesses and organizations have paid thousands for booths to advertise their services and wares at the trade show. One of them is the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The booth is empty.

There are two folding chairs, a few folding tables, and a sign: “National Inquiry into MMIWG,” it says. Photocopied.

No one is staffing booth. There is no literature, no displays, nothing.

My wife is a paid attendee at the AFN general assembly. She tries to take a picture of the empty booth with her iPhone, and an angry woman approaches her. The angry woman demands to know why she is taking a photo. Dissatisfied with the answer she gets, the angry woman goes to complain to organizers.

The next day, the booth is still empty. No staff, no materials, nothing.

And the sign is gone.

My wife and I happen to be visiting the then-Premier of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, that same day. We show him the picture. He shakes his head. “That is a disgrace,” I tell him. He doesn’t disagree.

And “disgrace,” generally, has remained the best word to describe the Trudeau government’s inquiry into the murders and disappearances of thousands of indigenous woman and girls. It is a multi-million-dollar disgrace, in fact, one that the father of the Minister of Justice – himself a hereditary chief – called “a bloody farce.”

“I would think that young [Justin] Trudeau should darn well know that this thing is not working and he should fire these people,” Chief Bill Wilson told CBC a few weeks before AFN’s general assembly.

“It just makes me sick. People have been sitting on their hands for…months, spending a good ton of money and they haven’t done a doggone thing.”

And, in the intervening months, the inquiry has more or less continued to do just that: spending a good ton of money, and not “a doggone thing.”

A summary of the myriad controversies that have followed the inquiry everywhere it goes:

  • Scores of resignations of high-profile resignations, including an executive director, two communications directors, and various managers and directors of operations and community relations.
  • Routinely seeking a bigger budget and being behind schedule – and, at one point, demanding millions more from the federal treasury before a single witness had been heard from.
  • Incompetence that is so profound and so pervasive, the Native Women’s Association of Canada was moved to issue a scathing report slamming the inquiry for “a lack of communication that is causing frustration, confusion and disappointment in this long-awaited process” – and for actually inflicting “desperation” among the very First Nations families they were supposed to serve.

And then, last week, the latest revelation: the inquiry issued a multi-million-dollar, sole-source contract with a law firm. A contract that stinks.

The unseemly little contract was discovered by Brian Lilley of Ottawa’s CFRA. Reports Lilley: “It’s a staggering amount for a contract that only lasts 8 months. The law firm McCarthy Tetrault is being paid $5,320,766.60 in a sole sourced contract. A contract worth almost 10 per cent of the inquiry’s $54 million budget,” he writes.

“What is the work for? Well at this point, that is unknown. Despite phone calls and multiple emails, my simple questions to the inquiry have gone unanswered. Given all the coverage of problems at the inquiry, a contract like this should raise questions and those questions should be answered.”

The sole-sourced contract was to run from September 6, 2017 and end on May 15, 2018. It wasn’t put up for competition because, Lilley reported, it supposedly related to “Consulting Services Regarding Matters of a Confidential Nature.”

A confidential nature.

As such, Lilley wasn’t told why McCarthy Tetrault was handed this sole-sourced, “confidential” sweetheart deal. We did figure out the math about the cost, however. Lilley worked it out. “[The] $5.3 million fee is for a contract that lasts just 251 days. That works out to $21,198.27 for each day of the contract. If we assumed a 10-hour work day, that would mean McCarthy’s is billing out at $2,119 per hour.”

Read that again: $2,119 an hour. Considering that the standard rate is $235 an hour, this contract is an obscenity.

(Full disclosure: I know the usual hourly rate because that is what I was periodically paid to work with First Nations for Liberal and Conservative Prime Ministers as a Ministerial Special representative – until I was terminated by inquiry champion Carolyn Bennett, without explanation and over the objections of officials, immediately following the October 2015 general election.)

More than two thousand dollars an hour. As the Minister of Justice’s Dad said, this “inquiry” was and is a farce. It should make everyone sick.

After this writer condemned the contract online, a spokesperson for the inquiry wrote to the Hill Times. The spokesperson wrote that the contract is for “the electronic processing and analysis” of documents by a little-known McCarthy Tetrault business arm. As in, documents provided by witnesses.

Get that? We are paying millions for some clerks to “process documents.” Not even professional legal advice.

As Lilley put it: “For too long the families at the centre of this inquiry have had to push for answers on their loved ones. They shouldn’t need to push for answers on this [sole-sourced contract] as well.”

Well Carolyn Bennett give us answers?

Don’t hold your breath.

7 Comments

  1. Pedro says:

    A certain leader, while sympathetic to the concerns of the indigenous peoples of Canada and the threat to as well as the precarious situation of young indigenous women and girls knew that ANY inquiry at this point, with emotions running high and without a very specific mission, would degenerate into various parties, many claiming concern but having mercenary motives, “putting in time to collect paycheques.” Sad because the concerns of the families of those girls are in tune with Canadians in general. Knock him if you will, but that leader was concerned about the efficient disbursement of tax revenue his government was entrusted with. “No amount is too much” is NOT a way to go into this endeavour. Sadly, the current federal government did not have the integrity to demand a specific mandate only because of cynical political considerations. Their concern is a kilometre wide and millimetres thick.

    • The Doctor says:

      Hey, the current government also thinks it can just throw other peoples’ (i.e., taxpayers’) money at Kinder Morgan and somehow that will fix a major constitutional crisis. Justin Trudeau: governing by blank cheque.

      On both of these files, the Trudeau government is essentially gutless. Instead of confronting a problem head-on and making a decision, they just throw taxpayers’ money at it, play for time and hope the problem goes away and/or that people forget about it. In both cases, the problem is not going away.

  2. Steve T says:

    This may not be popular to say, but a key problem with the MMIWG inquiry is that much of the time is spent “hearing peoples’ stories”.

    This may be comforting to those in grief, but it does zero to solve the crimes. What it does, instead, is burn through mountains of cash as forums are set up to hear victims’ families talk. For as long as they want.

    There’s nothing wrong with this per se, if the purpose of the inquiry is to provide grief counselling. However, if the purpose is to actually identify the cause and solution to these crimes, there are better approaches, and better uses of the public’s money.

  3. Sam White says:

    Biggest waste of money. Ever.

    But I knew this when Trudeau said he’d commit to it, so did many others like me. This was to get the native vote, as was removing the requirement of transparency by having Chief & Council post their financials. This, in effect, was giving the Chiefs back their bags of “shut up” money without having to be accountable for it. Placate the Chiefs & AFN and Trudeau & co can claim they’re “helping first nations” when they’re doing quite the opposite.

    Before you brand me a racist for saying such things, be it known I am a status Indian – thus in the progressive world the word racist cannot apply..

  4. Peter says:

    Murdered aboriginal women is not an issue that requires specialized technical expertise to resolve or involves competing interests that need to be reconciled. The tragi-comedy here is that blue-chip law firms, consultants and numerous other hangers-on like “community consultation specialists” are living well off the public dime when we all know pretty well what the outcome will be. I would bet a lot that, if they ever do produce a report, its main recommendations will be the settling of land claims, more money for community infrastructure and counselling, training for law enforcement, maybe a national registry of some kind and money for urban safe spaces. What else could they say? The Commission is not set up to address the technical ins-and-outs of police procedures and its certainly not a forum where aboriginal people would be comfortable discussing social dysfunctions in their communities frankly.

    The purpose of the Commission is political. It gives the government the appearance of commitment and caring and it gives aboriginal leaders a high-profile forum to pursue a broad range of political objectives. That’s not all bad (it’s very much a Canadian tradition), but when it runs into organizational chaos as Bay Street law firms pick up a few million and lots of other piggies slurp away at the trough, we are looking at the very worst of the progressive/Liberal Party brand of governance.

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