The Woman Behind Fontaine’s Leadership Win Also Paid By The AFN

Sue Bailey, CP, July 13, 2006

[Commentary by Paul Fromm precedes article:

Dear Canada First Supporter:

Phil Fontaine won re-election as for a third term as Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations because he’d delivered a $4-billion pot of taxpayers’ money in the form of compensation for all Indians who attended residential schools. There will also be more millions doled out for healing sessions and guiltmongering propaganda. An ad in the Globe and Mail (June 24, 2006) explains that for “the 80,000 living Aboriginal people who are former students of the residential school system” the plan offers payments of “$10,000 for the first school year (or part of a school year) plus $3,000 for each school year (or part of a school year).”

Indians will be given money as compensation for having been educated at taxpayers’ expense at residential schools. The residential schools gathered Indian children from far flung reserves and tried to teach them English, reading, writing, math and other rudimentary skills to allow them to participate in Canadian society. The programme began in the 1880s was an effort by the Dominion Government to try to integrate a Stone Age people into a modern society. Critics complain that the schools denigrated Indian culture. However, what was the government to do? Ignore the Indians, leave them ignorant and unschooled on their reservations?

Now, the taxpayer is being hit twice for educating Indians.

Usually Fontaine is a bit of a media hound, but he doesn’t have too much to say about the woman who negotiated this mugging of the Canadian taxpayers.

But Fontaine was mum when repeatedly asked through his staff to talk about Kathleen Mahoney, a University of Calgary human rights lawyer, AFN negotiator and adviser.

Fontaine and Mahoney have been a couple, sharing homes and vacations, for much of the last decade. Their personal connection isn’t much of a secret in native and legal circles, but is less widely known outside them.

It would be irrelevant but for the millions of dollars in public funding that sustain the AFN, critics say.

They have raised questions about the optics of Mahoney’s AFN work, given her close connection to Fontaine.

Mahoney, who has been lauded for promoting equity, is alternately described in recent assembly documents as its lead negotiator or adviser in federal talks on residential schools.”

The Assembly of First Nations took in about $29 million in federal cash—ninety-five per cent of its total funding—in the last fiscal year, an official confirmed. (Canadian Press, July 18, 2006)

Amazingly, Canada’s 1-million plus Indians contribute virtually nothing to their own lobby group. The taxpayer gets slammed twice: he essentially funds the Indian lobby and then has to pay the shot for what they shake down from the government.

Bill Wilson, who also ran for the AFN leadership, said:

“I just think if it’s not a conflict of interest, it certainly is an appearance of favouritism—which I’m absolutely opposed to.”

Tanis Fiss, spokeswoman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says the assembly and similar lobby groups should be more open to scrutiny.

“They’re accountable to no one, essentially, even though they receive bucketloads of tax money.”

. . .

Mahoney may be the best qualified person for the work she does for AFN, Fiss said. Trouble is, there’s no required public process to answer related questions when they arise.

“We’d certainly hope that any organization which is the recipient of large sums of tax dollars each year would have open tendering processes.

“If things are done with a lack of accountability and transparency, red flags go up. What are you hiding?

“The best way to dispel any of those possible myths is to open it up to scrutiny.”

But the assembly is not subject to federal regulations that are meant to keep other political leaders in check.

Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, notes that federal cabinet rules bar ministers from hiring family members and significant others, or those of other ministers.

Former Defence Minister Art Eggleton was fired from cabinet in 2002 for giving a $36,000 research contract to a former girlfriend.”

Paul Fromm

Director

CANADA FIRST ]

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The Woman Behind Fontaine’s Leadership Win Also Paid By The AFN

Sue Bailey, CP, July 13, 2006

Ottawa—Phil Fontaine staked his third successful bid to lead the Assembly of First Nations on a landmark deal for residential school survivors – a deal won with help from a paid AFN adviser who’s also known as his longtime companion.

Fontaine made the $2-billion lump-sum settlement a centrepiece of his campaign. He rode that triumph to a decisive victory Wednesday, winning another three-year term. But Fontaine was mum when repeatedly asked through his staff to talk about Kathleen Mahoney, a University of Calgary human rights lawyer, AFN negotiator and adviser.

Fontaine and Mahoney have been a couple, sharing homes and vacations, for much of the last decade. Their personal connection isn’t much of a secret in native and legal circles, but is less widely known outside them.

It would be irrelevant but for the millions of dollars in public funding that sustain the AFN, critics say.

They have raised questions about the optics of Mahoney’s AFN work, given her close connection to Fontaine.

Mahoney, who has been lauded for promoting equity, is alternately described in recent assembly documents as its lead negotiator or adviser in federal talks on residential schools.

She also helped craft a key related report for the AFN in 2004 calling for lump-sum payments and healing programs. Both measures were ultimately included in the recent settlement with Ottawa. Its value is expected to reach $4 billion when all cases are resolved.

The Canadian Press made several requests to the AFN in recent months for clarification on whether Mahoney was paid for her work and whether she competed for related contracts.

This week, AFN chief executive officer Richard Jock offered this response:

“Like many organizations, the Assembly of First Nations does not use a competitive bidding process for legal advice,” he said in a written statement.

“We seek out and identify the best possible firms based on the issue or case involved.”

Jock confirmed through a spokesman that Mahoney’s firm has received AFN payments.

When reached by phone in Vancouver, where Fontaine was re-elected, Mahoney declined to discuss her work for the assembly.

“I have no instructions from my client to talk to anybody about our relationship,” she said.

In a brief interview, Mahoney did not deny that she and Fontaine are a couple but declined to discuss the matter.

Bill Wilson, the B.C. consultant who unsuccessfully challenged Fontaine for the leadership, didn’t want to talk about the situation in detail.

“It would sound like sour grapes,” he said Thursday. “They clearly are a partnership and more power to them.”

However, Wilson said if he were in Fontaine’s position, he would not want his “spouse, wife or girlfriend” hired by the AFN.

“I do know that she has profited considerably from it, but she is a qualified lawyer and I’m sure the services she provided were top of the line.

“I just think if it’s not a conflict of interest, it certainly is an appearance of favouritism – which I’m absolutely opposed to.”

Tanis Fiss, spokeswoman for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says the assembly and similar lobby groups should be more open to scrutiny.

“They’re accountable to no one, essentially, even though they receive bucketloads of tax money.”

The Assembly of First Nations took in about $29 million in federal cash – ninety-five per cent of its total funding – in the last fiscal year, an official confirmed. The rest came from private sources to promote better health and other special programs.

Mahoney may be the best qualified person for the work she does for AFN, Fiss said. Trouble is, there’s no required public process to answer related questions when they arise.

“We’d certainly hope that any organization which is the recipient of large sums of tax dollars each year would have open tendering processes.

“If things are done with a lack of accountability and transparency, red flags go up. What are you hiding?

“The best way to dispel any of those possible myths is to open it up to scrutiny.”

Fontaine and other native leaders say they are willingly accountable. The AFN, for example, publicly releases annual reports and fiscal statements.

But the assembly is not subject to federal regulations that are meant to keep other political leaders in check.

Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, notes that federal cabinet rules bar ministers from hiring family members and significant others, or those of other ministers.

Former Defence Minister Art Eggleton was fired from cabinet in 2002 for giving a $36,000 research contract to a former girlfriend.

Former ethics counsellor Howard Wilson called the contract a “clear breach” of the cabinet conflict-of-interest code.

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