Manitoba’s auditor general says the province has failed to develop a plan to advance reconciliation efforts despite committing to do so in legislation passed six years ago.
Tyson Shtykalo says the Progressive Conservative government has not developed a strategy for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, which is one of the main objectives of the Path to Reconciliation Act passed under the previous NDP government.
“Without a strategy, efforts toward reconciliation are hampered, ultimately lacking focus and vision,” Shtykalo said in a release Thursday.
In the absence of a strategy, the report states, staff are encouraged to use the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the ongoing development and implementation of legislation, policies and programs.
The report says reconciliation requires a whole-of-government approach, which is not present, and that significant work is needed.
Shtykalo said the audit found reconciliation attempts lack cross-government co-ordination and departments have received no direction on how best to promote measures to advance the effort.
The legislation requires cabinet members to take the lead in promoting reconciliation measures.
The audit reviewed five departments. Only the minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations mentioned significant actions in his most recent mandate letter from him.
Shtykalo did note Eileen Clarke, the previous minister in charge of reconciliation, tried to lead efforts in this area before she resigned from cabinet last year.
Clarke’s resignation followed heavily criticized comments made by former premier Brian Pallister about the toppling of statues of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria on the legislature grounds.
Indigenous leaders said at the time that Pallister was minimizing and romanticizing the effects of colonialism when he said people who came to Canada did so not to destroy things, but to build up communities, churches, farms and businesses.
Clarke had said she decided to step down because she felt her voice and the voices of others were not being heard.
The audit surveyed Indigenous representatives and found most disagreed that the government had taken into consideration four guiding principles — respect, engagement, understanding and action — when it came to advancing reconciliation.
The auditor general made five recommendations, including that a strategy be developed and that all public servants receive mandatory training on the history of Indigenous peoples.
“To be most effective, these recommendations need to be acted upon immediately,” Shtykalo said. “Actions speak volumes.”
Premier Heather Stefanson said she welcomed the recommendations and any future decisions on reconciliation will be made in partnership with Indigenous groups.
“We’ll continue to ensure we’ll move forward on reconciliation ΓÇª we’ll want to seek the advice and wisdom of those in our First Nations and Indigenous communities to ensure that we’re listening to them as to how we can do this ,” she said.
“This is going to be driven by them, not by us.”
Ian Bushie, the NDP Opposition Indigenous affairs critic, called the report’s findings disheartening.
“There’s inaction on behalf of this government and there’s no real path to reconciliation by this government and their actions are showing that,” he said.
The government said the Civil Service Commission will consider the recommendation to include mandatory training.
“The (commission) will continue to collaborate with Indigenous leaders, within and outside the public service, with departments and with Indigenous trainers and facilitators to support a multitude of learning and development actions.”
The government added it is seeking input from Manitobans with the help of Indigenous groups on how to best develop a plan.
The former NDP government passed the Path to Reconciliation Act in 2016 with unanimous support in the legislature.
— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.