Ontario's Indigenous Affairs ministry not aware of most of province's Indigenous programs, audit finds

There are currently 140 provincial programs for Indigenous people in Ontario but the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs could only list 30 when asked by auditors.

14 recommendations include updating ministry's mandate

Bonnie Lysyk, auditor general of Ontario, answers questions during her annual report news conference at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Monday. At the time of her office's audit, the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs was not aware of all the provincial programs designed to support Indigenous people and communities. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

A recent report from the Auditor General of Ontario says that the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs has not been taking the lead to co-ordinate programs and services for Indigenous people in the province, or check if they're effective. 

Ontario's regional chief said she's not surprised at the report's findings. 

"I do believe that the province can do a better job of assessing and reporting its own effectiveness and improving the lives of Indigenous people," said RoseAnne Archibald.

"And I also agree that we're not always engaged in ensuring that the programs and services meet our needs." 

In the report released Monday, the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario assessed whether the ministry has been effective at leading the development of policy, programs and services that improve the lives of Indigenous people in the areas of health, community, social services and economic development.

Ontario's auditor general is an independent officer of the legislature who audits government programs to identify problems and wasteful spending.

The report said that at the time of the audit, the ministry was not aware of all the provincial programs designed to support Indigenous people and communities. The report said there are currently 140 provincial programs for Indigenous people but the ministry could only list 30 when asked by auditors.

The audit found that the ministry plays conflicting roles in land claim negotiations and has not identified ways to reduce the amount of time settlement negotiations take.

The report also said the ministry lacks transparency and accountability because it is not assessing or publicly reporting on the government's progress to meet the needs of Indigenous people, the effectiveness of programs and services, or key information regarding land claim negotiations. 

The report also said the ministry does not collect enough information to confirm the province is meeting its duty to consult Indigenous communities.

Archibald said she believes the government has a different interpretation of that duty than First Nations do. 

"First Nations want to be consulted before policy or legislative changes happen, whereas the provincial government sees its duty to consult after it's introduced legislation," she said. 

"We have to find a way to bridge that gap between what our understanding is in terms of a fulsome implementation of the duty to consult."

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald says she's not surprised by the audit's findings. (CBC)

The report points out that the ministry did take the lead on the province's COVID-19 response in Indigenous communities by meeting with Indigenous communities and service providers and relaying their needs to the responsible ministries.

Archibald said she's optimistic the government is moving in the right direction. 

"One of the highlights, for example, of this past month was when I was appointed to the Ministers' COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force," said Archibald.

"And when we look across Canada, no other government has appointed a First Nation leader to a task force like this. It really shows that there are some good things happening in Ontario, and as a leader, I always want to build upon that." 

The audit offers 14 recommendations for improvement including an updated mandate for the ministry to ensure that the development and delivery of Indigenous policies, programs and services are co-ordinated across the province and that the ministry engages with Indigenous people on their needs prior to developing programs, services and policies.

The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs said in an emailed statement that it is "committed to improving social and economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples in Ontario.

"We continue to make substantial progress, however, we acknowledge that there are complex, systemic issues that cannot be solved overnight. There is much more to be done and improvements will require continued work from all ministries and levels of government.

It said it is working "to modernize information management systems to improve key milestone identification and reporting."