Aboriginal Affairs bureaucrats offered to bake snacks to save dough: document

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OTTAWA — Aboriginal Affairs kiboshed a proposed meeting of all its Ontario staff, who offered to bake their own snacks, gather in a public library and cram onto buses to save a bit of money, a new document shows.

The cash-strapped department — which for years has been dipping into its infrastructure budget to pay for other programs and services — balked at the $53,500 price tag for a one-day get-together in Toronto.

A briefing note to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt outlines why management thought it would be a good idea to bring everyone together for a day.

“Recent regional management strategic planning work has uncovered many strains on the organization: staff note they are working in an unco-ordinated fashion, in silos, and there is perception of deep divides in work, process and philosophy, between each unique business centre,” says the document.

“An all-staff meeting would allow for regional senior management to communicate direction to all staff at the same time, provide an opportunity for staff to talk with their management team and each other, which will foster improved collaboration and team-building across directorates and business centres.”

The Canadian Press obtained the briefing note under the Access to Information Act.

Had the meeting gone ahead, the document says it would have been the first time in seven years that all the Ontario staff had been in the same room.

Aboriginal Affairs had not budgeted for the meeting, so Ontario staff proposed some creative ways to cut costs.

Staff could hold bake sakes so they’d have treats to munch on during breaks, they suggested. And rather than pay for an expensive venue, everyone could gather at one of Toronto’s many public libraries, or perhaps even on a university campus.

Staff also suggested hiring a non-profit group to make their lunches instead of getting a caterer, while employees from Brantford and Sudbury would take vans or buses to Toronto to avoid airline costs.

Trying to squeeze everything into one day wasn’t ideal, staff admitted, since it “does not provide adequate time for function training.” But they said it was still the most economical way to bring everyone together.

Senior officials turned down the proposal.

“As discussed at (executive committee), I don’t support this approach, although I appreciate your desire as management to bring people together,” says a handwritten note beneath the signature line for the deputy minister or associate deputy minister.

“I recommend you put together a team of two or three to go to each office for a face-to-face meeting, then wrap up with an all-staff video conference.”

Aboriginal Affairs has yet to respond to questions about the proposed meeting.

The department has been dipping into its infrastructure dollars to pay for its other programs and services.

Aboriginal Affairs shifted half a billion dollars budgeted for infrastructure over a six-year-period to try to cover shortfalls in education and social programs, according to a recently released document.

But the document adds that moving the money around has only put greater pressure on the department’s already strapped infrastructure program. Even with the reallocated money, it says Aboriginal Affairs’ social and education programs are still short.

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