By Lynda Powless
An investigation into the Chiefs of Ontario finances and operations has revealed the organization is running a $1.3 million deficit and is wracked with a toxic work environment, and questionable travel and credit card expenses.
In speaking notes handed out to the 44th annual Chiefs Assembly here Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said the internal review has revealed an organization beset with problems.
The speaking notes, obtained by Turtle Island News depict an organization operating without internal controls.
Chief Day’s notes said he brought the issues to a Special Chiefs Assembly (SCA) last April where the chiefs approved his request for an internal review despite several chiefs voting against it.
“There were people both inside and outside our organization who did not want this SCA to happen. They did not want the Chiefs to know what we would uncover.”
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) was brought to the table to ensure accountability, he said. Eighty per cent of COO funding is from Indigenous Affairs.,
He said ISC has hired a forensic accountant to conduct an independent third party analysis of the COO.
He said the board received a preliminary report Monday detailing a wide range of problems that all stem from a lack of oversight, rules and procedures. Hiring practices were not followed.
He said the report found:
“There are staff in non-funded positions that increase the organization’s debt by $50,000 every month. There are salaries and travel expenses that go beyond the budgeted amounts. There are undocumented expenses.”
Sources said some employees were hired at as much as $20,000 over their pay scale without approval.
Day said in his notes the Chiefs of Ontario are currently “at least $1.3 million in debt. Since we found out in April, that means we have lost $150,000.”
The organizations Chief Operating Officer took a leave of absence in March to take on a new position.
In his speaking notes Chief Day said it happened because there “is little documentation to demonstrate that employee hiring practices were made in compliance with the organization’s hiring policy.”
A final report will be ready by the end of next month.
He said the COO board of directors are aware of the findings.
The board includes; Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, Treaty 3 Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI) Grand Chief Joel Abram, and newly elected member — Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Glen Hare.
“Grand Chief Joel Abram has taken time out of his busy schedule to visit the Chiefs of Ontario office fairly regularly as of late. As treasurer of the Board, he has gone through our books. “
He said since April, all of the Board members have seen this information in one form or another.
He said the board members have also seen labour lawyers’ recommendations about dismissing staff. But they have failed to act so far.
“Chiefs, I wish that the only problem we had at the Chiefs of Ontario was a funding problem. But it goes deeper than that. There is dysfunction. There is a toxic workplace. There is an internal workplace investigation.”
At the same time he said staff want to do their work as they always have done. “They want to serve you, the Chiefs. They want to serve the community members who seek our assistance.”
But, he said “some of our people at COO are suffering – some of your people who work at COO are suffering – as a result of the current mess that we are in.
“Chiefs, this is a heart breaking situation. My hands are tied. The Board of Directors needs to act. You need to tell the Grand Chiefs that they work for you.”
The speaking notes say there is still a lack of unanimity and a lack of decision making.
He says there are five board members. The Regional Chief is an ex-officio Director with no voting privileges.
“We have a mountain of legal fees from our legal team that must be challenged for going over-budget by double the original estimate.”
He charges some chiefs were harassed into accepting the Ontario Hydro Shares deal.
He says some of the legal work undertaken “was not under our instruction – like harassing Chiefs until they were forced to just say YES to the deal.
He said he did not oversee the ratification process of the deal.
The COO energy committee oversaw the deal.
“There is much to be reviewed here Chiefs. My greatest regret is that I was not personally overseeing the progress towards ratification. You, the Chiefs, should have been properly informed so that you could get the consent of your communities on this file.”
He says the Sovereign Wealth Fund has been challenged by having an interim board (the four Grand Chiefs) that have rarely met. “It was a complex deal, and I know that it will be a good deal for the 129 partners that signed on.”
The sovereign wealth fund is a joint venture for the 129 Chiefs of Ontario who voted to approve the Ontario Hydro shares deal.
The Ontario First Nations Sovereign Wealth Fund is to be funded by $29 million in seed capital from the Ontario government
It will also hold the 14 million shares, or a 2.4% stake, in Ontario electric utility Hydro One that the 129 groups acquired from the provincial government for $259 million. The fund will be overseen by a non-political board, CEO and chief investment officer.
Since approval in January only one board member has been selected. Ron Jamieson of Six Nations is the only confirmed board member. Others have yet to be appointed from the six Political Territorial Offices, Grand Council Treaty #3, Nishawbe Aski Nation, Anishinabek Nation (Union of Ontario Indians), Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI), Unaffiliated First Nations and Independent First Nations. The unaffiliated First Nations partners (Six Nations and Kiashke Zaaging Anishinabek (Gull Bay)) selected Jamieson for their rep.
A headquarters for the new fund has not been determined but most likely will be in Toronto.
The Hydro One deal was financed through a 25-year term loan from the province. The shares were pledged as security for the loan, according to a news release from the Ontario Energy Ministry. The deal was reached in an agreement-in-principle between the Ontario government and Chiefs of Ontario in July 2016.
Chief Day, who is seeking re-election told the assembly “I can promise you that I will finish what has been started – from restructuring the Chiefs of Ontario to obtaining our Fair Share of federal funding for all communities.
“From following through on child welfare funding and jurisdiction, to pressing for long-term sustainable community and band funding.”
He told the assembly “we are not are not the gatekeepers we are the rights holders. At the community level when making decision they are asserting their economic rights jurisdiction and making life better in their communities.”
He said “what has been started is on its way to being finished from restructuring the COO to getting our fair share.”
He told provincial representatives present First Nations want to maintain their successes in the energy sector. “Our message to the government is we have a vested interested and a right.”
He said “equalization is a right in Canada and no community will experience abject poverty because of equalization but because we are under the Indian Act we are nothing but a line item.”
He said equalization needs to apply to First Nations.
He said structural changes are coming to COO with a new leadership format.
“The fact is we are going to see change and be a strong Chiefs of Ontario because of the direction you have given.”
He said the COO is a Chief’s organization.
“This is a chiefs’ organization. We need to give the authority and direction to the chiefs. We need to support our staff we must be unified for the sake of our people and children and turn the reigns back to you so I will continue to seek your direction. this is a great organization, we must work together.”
By Lynda Powless