Original Published 17:33 May 27, 2022

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com

The Office of the Auditor General (OAG) is recommending that programs offered to improve Indigenous participation in the Alberta economy should include feedback from the Indigenous communities or organizations that receive the funding.

Earlier this week, the OAG released a report entitled Indigenous Economic Participation, in which it examined four programs offered by Indigenous Relations and two programs offered by Labour and Immigration.

The aim of the programs is to meet the goal set by the Alberta government in 2000 to “support Aboriginal People and governments in achieving self-reliance and enhanced well-being.”

The audit concludes that while the six programs, which were designed to increase Indigenous participation in the Alberta economy, “have processes to assess and report on the results…not all these processes were effective and improvements can be made.”

Among the improvements recommended for both departments is “analyzing program performance, including the reporting it receives from funding recipients, to compare to user needs, planned results and program costs.”

Before auditing the government programs, the OAG engagement team met with 12 Indigenous communities, including Métis settlements, and 10 Indigenous community-owned businesses, financial institutions and entrepreneurs, some of which had been recipients of funding through the programs.

“We went to the front line here to those who are out in the community, to the business leaders because as evidenced in this report, partnership is a big part of it and we wanted to understand…what success looked like from their perspective. The subject matter of our audit was really trying then to look at how the departments evaluate their success,” said Auditor General Doug Wylie.

In an unusual move, the OAG released those conversational findings in an accompanying eight-page report entitled First Nations and Métis Leaders’ Insights.

“Normally we would maybe have that the audit team would use this information, (but) we found, quite frankly, that the results were very powerful. And we thought that Albertans might be interested in hearing directly the insights of what we heard from the leaders both of the businesses and the communities,” said Wylie.

First Nations and Métis Leaders’ Insights stresses that the input received was “not intended to present a singular vision of economic success from an Indigenous perspective.”

“Whenever we’re taking a look at any sort of government program, it’s really key to understand what the program’s objectives are, the measures, the targets. So by getting a good understanding through those initial discussions we had with business leaders and leaders in the communities, we understood what was important that these programs should deliver,” said assistant Auditor General Rob Driesen.

First Nations and Métis Leaders’ Insights outlines the need for strong economic efforts with the initial focus of economic development to provide employment for community members; the focus of community-based businesses to provide for long-term health and wellness of the community; and the need to balance traditional connection to the land with sustainable development of resources.

The OAG’s audit of the six government programs turned up that many of “the foundational elements of the accountability model” were missing in the reporting of the two departments, said Wylie. “It’s basic stuff.”

Those elements include setting measurements, having clear expectations, analyzing results, setting benchmarks, determining the effectiveness of a project, and making necessary changes.

In fact, during the audit period, Alberta’s Indigenous Relations suspended funding for two programs—Aboriginal Economic Partnerships and the Aboriginal Business Development Services—and paused the funding for the Aboriginal Business Investment Fund (ABIF) during the 2019–2020 year. Funding resumed for the ABIF in 2020-2021. The only program that ran the full span of the audit’s time frame was the Employment Partnerships Program (EPP).

States the report, “We found no documentation for why the department focused on only one of the four programs linked to the achievement of the desired ministry outcome. Management should have documented its rationale for why the results of one program were more significant than the others.”

The report goes on further to state, “With no assessment of the range of needs and limited reporting on program results, we found Indigenous Relations made recent changes to its program mix with limited analysis of the impact on program users and program cost.”

A request by Windspeaker.com for an interview with Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson was turned down and instead a statement offered.

“Alberta’s Government remains focused on creating opportunities for Indigenous peoples to be true partners in prosperity. While the timeframe upon which the report focuses was mainly before this government was in power, I will accept the Auditor General’s recommendations to improve the reporting processes so we can ensure programs effectively align with increasing economic self-reliance and success. We are proud of our success with the ABIF and EPP programs and will continue to move forward,” said the statement.

The period for the Auditor General’s audit was 2016 to 2019. The UCP government was elected in 2019. They were preceded by the New Democrats.

AlbertaLabour and Immigration offered two programs—  First Nations Training to Employment and Aboriginal Training to Employment. While these programs weren’t linked to the year 2000 goal, they did indirectly contribute to the government’s objective. Specific to these programs, the OAG recommended updating performance measures and targets.

Both departments had undertaken previous reviews of their programs. In March 2019, one month before Wilson took over the portfolio, Indigenous Relations worked with a third party to complete program evaluations. Labour and Immigration undertook two internal reviews. Neither department has implemented recommendations.

Labour and Immigration has accepted the OAG’s recommendations.

While the OAG does not have the power to compel implementation of recommendations, Wylie is confident that there are enough mechanisms in place to hold the departments accountable, including follow-up by the OAG; the Public Accounts Committee calling on department managers to report on the progress of the recommendations; and public pressure. The OAG’s audits are public documents.

“Because at the end of the day it is about Albertans’ tax dollars being used in programs, whether it’s these programs or other government programs that are being utilized,” said Wylie.

The Office of the Auditor General operates independently of the Alberta government.

Both reports are available here: https://www.oag.ab.ca/reports/oag-indigenous-participation-may2022/

This item reprinted with permission from Windspeaker.com, Edmonton, Alberta