As It Happens

Ontario grand chief questions $1.28M payout for consultant on Cat Lake housing conditions report

Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, says it's "simply wrong" for a consultant to take a $1.28-million fee to help the community secure 10 times that in federal housing money.

Gerard Paulin was promised 10 per cent of whatever money the federal government pledged to support Cat Lake

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler is calling into question the $1.28-million payout to a consultant who developed a report on the 'profoundly poor' living conditions in the Cat Lake First Nation. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

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An Ontario grand chief is calling into question why a first nation agreed to pay a $1.28-million fee to a consultant who helped them secure 10 times that in federal housing money.

"Under the current terms of the contract, for the consultant to take away a significant amount of money from a community that's in dire need of housing is simply wrong," Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

In March the federal government pledged $12.8 million to the Cat Lake First Nation, with money going to repairs of existing homes and construction of new ones.

The community declared a state of emergency in January, citing "profoundly poor" living conditions, including black mould and multiple other structural issues in residents' homes.

Community members say they've suffered long-term health problems as a result of the housing conditions.

Cat Lake leaders cited an independent report on the living conditions, headed by Thunder Bay-based consultant Gerald Paulin.

A photo of a wall inside a home in Cat Lake taken in June 2017. The photo was part of a presentation to federal government officials at a meeting with Cat Lake chief and council last week. (Submitted by Gerald Paulin)

The Globe and Mail reported Sunday that Paulin and his company Windsun Energy Corp., received $1.28 million for the report.

Paulin agreed that he would get 10 per cent of whatever new government money he brought in, but if he brought in nothing he would get nothing.

Paulin told Globe that the Cat Lake band council promised to pay the full amount "out of revenue streams not related to the new housing agreement."

As It Happens has reached out to Paulin in the hopes of arranging an interview. 

Who deserves the credit — and the payout?

Paulin's report has been credited for helping bring Cat Lake's plight into the national spotlight.

But Fiddler said he would rather give more credit to the community members themselves who publicly advocated to the provincial and federal governments for their support and attention.

"Nobody really heard of this guy until after the contract was signed," he said of Paulin.

Fiddler characterized Paulin and other consultants and contractors as taking advantage of vulnerable communities who may feel they have no other way to widely publicize their pleas for help.

"I would just like to know more about why he would insist on taking such a huge chunk of money from families that are in a really difficult ... I would say dangerous position," he said.

"I mean, their health is on the line and he knows what the needs are in those communities. He knows a number of homes that need to be replaced or renovated and that that's where we should try to be direct all the resources to."

MP Charlie Angus, right, inspects housing on Cat Lake First Nation early in 2019. (Submitted by Charlie Angus)

Fiddler also credited NDP MP Charlie Angus and NDP MPP Sol Mamakwa for "getting the word out on what was happening in the community" to secure support and funding.

"We know that the community of Cat Lake First Nation faces considerable housing challenges, which is why our Government has been working directly with community leadership to find solutions to help meet their needs," the Office of the Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O'Regan told As It Happens in a statement.

Cat Lake Chief Matthew Keewaykapow, left, and Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan are pictured after signing an interim framework agreement in Thunder Bay, Ont., in February to deal with the First Nation's housing crisis. (Heather Kitching / CBC)

"Speaking broadly, any concerns regarding the misuse of funds are taken seriously and there are processes in place to look further into such concerns," it continued.

The statement did not reference Paulin or any concerns raised about his fee.

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from CBC News. Interview with Alvin Fiddler produced by Kevin Robertson.