Monday, January 19, 2009

Patrick Brazeau's $260,000 Question

Government asks Congress of Aboriginal Peoples for its money back

Ever since Patrick Brazeau's appointment to the Senate, questions have lingered over his handling of sexual harassment allegations during his time as the National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.

Now, Brazeau will have to face another question about the CAP's operations during his time as National Chief.

In 2007, Health Canada began an audit of the CAP to determine what happened to $472,900 the government gave the organization in order to improve health care for off-reserve aboriginals. Of particular interest in the project was diabetes and early childhood development.

The CAP apparently dispursed more than a quarter of a million dollars without proper documentation, including the awarding of work without contracts, and unexplained expenditure of funds.

"The audit findings identified concerns with CAP's internal financial controls including approximately $260,000 of ineligible expenses in consulting fees, travel and meeting costs and per diems for CAP employees during 2005-06," a Health Canada spokesperson wrote in a news release.

A significant portion of the funds was even allegedly spent on board meetings for which no minutes were recorded.

The government has halted all funding to CAP until it submits a plan to repay Health Canada.

If the previous concerns about Brazeau's handling of sexual harassment weren't enough to cast serious doubts on Brazeau these recent developments have certainly done the job.

With the new concerns about possible corruption within the CAP this development raises, there's no tenable way that Stephen Harper can go ahead with Brazeau's appointment. The apparent misappropriation of government funds by the CAP has scandal written all over it.

One must also consider important questions about whether or not Stephen Harper knew about the audit -- as mentioned previously, initiated in 2007 -- before appointing Brazeau to the Senate. Examining any individual's dealings with government agencies would strike most Canadians as a reasonably routine part of any vetting process. And while Harper likely couldn't have predicted the outcome of this audit, the risk he likely took in making this appointment should have many Canadians wondering about his judgement.

Brazeau has some important questions about precisely what happened to the $260,000 in question. Until he does, Stephen Harper should suspend his appointment. Failing that, Brazeau himself should voluntarily step aside.

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