National Post – Christie Blatchford
‘I think if members knew what went on … they would be sick to their stomachs for weeks,’ says one member of the small Leamington, Ont.-based First Nation
“I am not even remotely shocked about the results of the audit,” says one member of the small Leamington, Ont.-based First Nation. “I think if members knew what went on … they would be sick to their stomachs for weeks.”
The member asked not to be identified.
The First Nation has only 368 members, and, with no designated reserve yet, almost all of them live elsewhere in Ontario or Canada.
But the member said that many of the same issues identified by the audit — nepotism, the chief and a couple of councillors allegedly acting in concert without the approval of the whole council, sloppy adherence to procedures — have long dogged the band.
The audit — requested by Councillor Jim Peters at a June 3 meeting — found that a total of $280,000, much of that for unusually lucrative cash prizes for contest winners at the powwow, wasn’t backed up by receipts or any other documents.
The powwow in total cost $546,117 — and though no official budget ever existed that the auditors could find, that amount was more than twice the original estimate.
In fact, the auditors said they were first told that even minutes of council meetings didn’t exist. Council then belatedly passed minutes for a 14-month period “in bulk,” which left the auditors with “concern over the accuracy of the minutes, as memories of a meeting over a year ago would be diminished.”
Neither was there ever a budget for the powwow last year, which was meant as a repatriation celebration for the small First Nation.
The First Nation’s members originally lived in the Point Pelee area in southwestern Ontario, but were driven out by settlers encroaching on their lands. In early 2011, Caldwell and Ottawa announced a $105-million payment as final settlement of the band’s 200-year-old claim.
The settlement was meant, as the regular Caldwell auditors noted in their 2017 financial statements, to “build out a reserve, to finance Caldwell programs, services and activities; to provide income to Caldwell institutions; and to generally benefit Caldwell future generations.”
It was that routine audit that appears to have first officially flagged problems with the powwow last year. Those auditors were unable to verify the revenue from the powwow or the accuracy and even the existence of cash prizes paid out.
As the forensic auditors from the London, Ont., firm of Matson Driscoll & Damico Ltd. found, “None of the budgets noted indicate a cost of $500,000. We are unaware of how between March 22, 2016 and April 29, 2016, the budget grew from $260,000 to $500,000.”
The auditors were especially concerned at the awarding of a contract to a company owned and operated by Dave Hillier, son of Chief Louise Hillier.
His firm got a $190,000 untendered contract for video production services for the powwow and, though council had a practice of requiring three quotes for such large contracts, “no quotes were obtained” beyond that from Dave Hillier’s company, Moccasin Media.
“Further,” the auditors said in their Aug. 28 report, “the Moccasin Media contract was never brought to council for approval.”
In addition they found that for a $60,000 first payment to Moccasin, Chief Hillier was the only signatory on an email to the bank demanding a bank draft. Council practice was to have at least two signatures on all cheques, neither of which should have been from a family member of the recipient.
The auditors urged the council to seek “formal legal opinion” about whether “a conflict of interest existed between Chief Hillier” and her son.
But the Caldwell member said the Chief had often given her son jobs, and once tried to sign a contract with a small TV station in the area, where the son has worked, for a “native shopping channel.”
Only when “the membership spoke up,” the member said, was that project stopped.
Often the member said the chief would consult only with two favoured councillors to pass motions or approve contracts — only three of five council members needing to be on board.
I think if members knew what went on u2026 they would be sick to their stomachs for weeks
Chief Hillier, according to data on the federal government Indigenous Affairs website, was paid a total of $84,451 for the 2016-17 fiscal year, $64,000 of that salary. Council members, who are paid honoraria, according to Allen Deleary, Caldwell’s new director of operations, earned between about $9,000 and almost $25,000 a year, plus expenses.
Band members, who have been sent copies of the audit, have a membership meeting Sept. 23.
There’s a cynical old saying about how First Nations often work: “The chief’s driveway is always paved.” Caldwell members soon may have something to say about that.
Mea culpa: A column earlier this week identified Janne Peters as the councillor who moved a motion seeking the forensic audit. It was in fact Jim Peters.