Public left out of the loop after high level forum

The figureheads of Tuesday’s Intergovernmental Forum talked about “sharing information” and not keeping secrets. From each other.

The figureheads of Tuesday’s Intergovernmental Forum talked about “sharing information” and not keeping secrets.

From each other.

For the public, all we have is what they — Yukon First Nation chiefs, Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl and Premier Dennis Fentie — revealed at a post-forum press conference.

No public record exists for what those involved consider to be milestone meetings.

The forum between Strahl, Fentie, chiefs and officials took place Tuesday morning at the Gold Rush Inn.

The public will be told what it needs to know, said Fentie.

“All matters that are relative to the public are presented to the public,” he said.

“There are government-to-government discussions that may not be minuted or produced in the form of a public document.

“What will be made public is the new mandate.”

That mandate includes a renewal of financial transfers with First Nations for their work implementing final agreements.

First Nation chiefs often cite auditor general reports and implementation reviews that have found funding from Ottawa to be sorely lacking.

The deadline for the new transfer agreement is March 31, 2009.

“I don’t feel it’ll be finished by March,” said Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Andy Carvill.

“It’s slow going and at times it can be a tedious process. It’s the wheels of government and how they tend to work.

“A substantial amount of work is done (but) I’m not sure where the government is at with it.”

Strahl will be instructing his officials to “move without delay to move ahead on a workplan.”

“We have some fast-approaching fiscal deadlines that we don’t want to let come and go,” said Strahl.

“We need to get working on serious negotiations.

“Where we are in the process, is not secret information — that needs to be shared (with) the Yukon government and First Nations.”

Because of the final agreements, Ottawa’s work originates in many departments, not just Indian Affairs, said Strahl.

“It’s a complex effort,” he said.

“It requires a whole-government response. You can imagine the number of issues that arrive across all the things governments do.”

Negotiations are difficult because no historical data or experience exists to build upon, said Fentie.

The three governments can’t guarantee a new funding-transfer agreement will be established before the March deadline.

“There are a number of factors out of our control — like a federal election,” said Fentie.

That’s why the fallback plan is an extension of the current funding scheme.

Short of an election, Fentie did not detail what else might hinder discussions.

“We might get hit by an asteroid, I don’t know,” he said.

The three parties are working on an extension of current funding to ensure there is no lapse between now and the March 31, 2009 deadline.

“We want to make sure nothing happens to interrupt the arrangements in place,” said Strahl.

A federal contingency plan is a comfortable cushion in case the parties fail to established a new mandate, said Carvill.

“If we don’t achieve the results we want by the deadline then we can always look at an extension,” he said.

“But it’s not our preferred option.”