Cite lack of input on child-welfare reforms
By: Larry Kusch
Winnipeg Free Press
Aboriginal leaders are upset that the Family Services Department offered a contract to a Winnipeg company to advise it on how to proceed with recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry report without their input.
And they've written a letter demanding a meeting with Premier Greg Selinger to deal with this and other unresolved issues with the department.
"We made it clear to the premier that we've lost faith in this minister (Family Services Minister Kerri-Irvin-Ross) and we want a meeting," Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said this week.
He said Irvin-Ross should not have offered a $350,000 contract to AMR Planning and Consulting without consulting a leadership council of Métis and First Nations leaders established under Manitoba law to advise the government on child-welfare issues.
"It caught us off guard completely," said Chartrand, adding that the contract is just the most recent in a series of grievances aboriginal leaders have had with Family Services since Irvin-Ross was appointed minister in October.
The AMR contract has also been criticized because it was granted without tender. The government also failed to disclose it within 30 days as mandated by provincial rules.
The leadership council was established under the Child and Family Services Authorities Act. It includes the MMF president, a Métis woman designated by the MMF, the grand chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization and the grand chief of the MKO, the organization representing northern Manitoba chiefs. Also sitting on the council are two provincial cabinet members, including Irvin-Ross.
The leadership council expects to be consulted on significant issues related to child welfare, Chartrand said. Most of the kids in care of CFS agencies in Manitoba are aboriginal.
"She (Irvin-Ross) had no right to appoint anybody to deal with any recommendations (from the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry report) until we as leadership council had a chance to have a dialogue," he said.
On Feb. 3, after aboriginal leaders got wind of the AMR contract, a few of them, including Chartrand, penned a pointed letter to Irvin-Ross calling her actions "autocratic."
They accused her of unilaterally taking action on 20 of the inquiry report's 62 recommendations and rebuked her for referring 31 other recommendations to the AMR without consulting them.
The letter was signed by Derek Nepinak, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Terry Nelson, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, in addition to Chartrand.
Cabinet spokeswoman Rachel Morgan said Irvin-Ross wishes to meet with the leadership council.
"Her office is currently trying to set up a meeting and is waiting to hear back from members," Morgan said.
"Previous attempts to schedule a leadership council meeting or to meet with aboriginal leadership have been unsuccessful due to scheduling issues," she added.
Chartrand said while previous family services ministers have convened meetings of the leadership council every few months, Irvin-Ross has yet to meet with the group since taking over the portfolio in October.
Meanwhile, Chartrand stressed he has no issue with AMR Planning and Consulting, or Barbara Bruce, the company principal leading the province's "implementation team" regarding 31 Phoenix Sinclair inquiry report recommendations. He said he and Bruce are friends.
But he is angry at how the government has handled the process, and he said he still hasn't been told what AMR's terms of reference are. The province has asked the consulting company to submit a report by Sept. 30.
AMR PLANNING AND CONSULTING
Principal owners: Barbara and Angie Bruce.
Areas of expertise: Organizational development, human resources, planning and policy in health-related fields, research and evaluation, cultural training and curriculum development, and event planning.
Quote: "Our founding partners possess a proven track record of excellence working with national and regional businesses and organizations including those in the non-profit sector, aboriginal industry and all levels of government. We have also achieved recognition for our innovation and integrity, and for our ability to guide our clients in making improvements to both their operations and their bottom lines."
Connection to the NDP: Barbara Bruce, the lead AMR official working on the Phoenix Sinclair recommendations file, donated $350 to the party in 2011. Her partner, Angie Bruce, donated $250 to the NDP the same year. Barbara Bruce is also a board member of the Manitoba Gaming Commission, a provincial government appointment.-- sources: AMR website, Elections Manitoba website, Province of Manitoba