National Post

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin TangIndigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett

The Privy Council Office has given the Trudeau government what amounts to an incomplete mark when it comes to meeting objectives the Liberals set for themselves on indigenous and northern affairs, the National Post has learned.

The department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs is one of two ministries — the other is democratic reform — that did not get a passing mark on a “deliverology” report card that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet were expected to review as they began two days of meetings Monday in Calgary.

The report card was prepared by a special unit inside the Privy Council Office — the non-partisan government department that supports the work of the prime minister — as part of a stock-taking exercise as the government prepares for the House of Commons to reconvene on Jan. 30 and as cabinet considers what priorities it ought to emphasize as Finance Minister Bill Morneau begins work in earnest on the 2017 federal budget.

But while the National Post was provided top-line information about the “deliverology” report by a source who requested anonymity because the source was not authorized to speak to the media, the Post was unable to determine the reasons or circumstances for the shortcomings at indigenous affairs. A source in the PMO said the PMO could not respond because the report card is considered a confidential, top-secret “confidence of cabinet” and, as a result, even its very existence cannot be acknowledged.

Nonetheless, a government source told the Post that the report card is not an indictment but instead is a call to action, a reminder that the cabinet needs to focus more resources on the indigenous affairs file and that the objectives the Trudeau government has are not solely the responsibility of any one minister but rather will require a “whole-of-government” approach involving several ministers and departments.

The Post has spoken to Liberal political staffers from different departments over the past several weeks about the challenge of meeting the government’s commitments on the indigenous and northern affairs file.

The common theme in those discussions — which occurred on a not-for-attribution background basis — was that one of the biggest challenges is changing the culture at what is widely seen as one of the most sclerotic bureaucracies in the federal government: the department of indigenous and northern affairs.

That the 4,500 bureaucrats at the department have difficulty responding to change and insist on sticking to set ways is not a new revelation. Many Conservative political staffers who had to work with that department over the past decade have often said the same thing.

Indigenous leaders have made similar complaints year in, year out for decades. Most recently, when Trudeau and Bennett attended a session in December at a special meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, several chiefs took to the microphone to praise the new attitude from the Liberal government while condemning the attitude of the non-partisan bureaucrats they deal with.

Even the auditor general, Michael Ferguson, in his most recent report to Parliament, complained specifically about a long history of inaction and indifference at the department of indigenous and northern affairs.

“This is now more than a decade’s worth of audits showing that programs have failed to effectively serve Canada’s indigenous peoples,” Ferguson wrote in November. “Until a problem-solving mindset is brought to these issues to develop solutions built around people instead of defaulting to litigation, arguments about money, and process roadblocks, this country will continue to squander the potential and lives of much of its indigenous population.”

This is now more than a decade’s worth of audits showing that programs have failed to effectively serve Canada’s indigenous peoples.

That said, the National Post has been told by Liberal aides working to reverse that trend that the coming year or two could bear fruit precisely because of work done in the past year to remove or overcome those “process roadblocks.”

As a result, the Liberals are counting on quantifiable improvements in the year ahead on everything from the number of land claims processed to the number of First Nations reserves with new drinking water systems.

The term “deliverology” originates with Michael Barber, a former top aide to former British prime minister Tony Blair. Barber’s firm, Sir Michael’s Delivery Associated Ltd. of London, U.K., was given a two-year, $200,000 contract by Trudeau’s government to show it how it could adapt the public sector management system used by the Blair government to the Trudeau government.

That contract expires at the end of the current federal fiscal year on March 31.

Barber attended the past three cabinet retreats but he is not in Calgary this week, a spokesperson for Trudeau said.

That said, Matthew Mendelsohn, who joined the Privy Council Office to head up the special “agenda and results” unit after Trudeau took office, is in Calgary this week. It has been Mendelsohn’s job to take Barber’s ideas and implement them across federal ministries.

Attempts to reach Mendelsohn Monday were also unsuccessful.