Rise of the Eastern Empire: Lavallee's Plan to Dismantle the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples
We (those who live off-reserve in Canada) do not ever hear from CAP or its President Betty-Ann Lavallee in the media, in the community, or anywhere else for that matter. On APTN's InFocus (Jan.21, 2011 edition), the political panel talked about how irrelevant organizations like CAP are when they do not reach out to the people they claim to represent.
Aside from CAP's lack of engagement with the substantial Aboriginal population that lives off-reserve in Canada (50% of total Aboriginal population), CAP's current President is taking the organization on a nosedive into oblivion and if those who care about the organization don't do something soon, it could be gone forever. Many of you who have contacted me have indicated that it is your opinion that President Lavallee simply doesn't have the skills or capacity to lead a national organization because as many have commented, she nearly tanked her own provincial organization in New Brunswick - the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council (NBAPC) and at the very least, made it politically irrelevant.
I appreciate the feedback from grassroots folks and I can definitely relate. In fact, I used to be a member of the NBAPC and watched the organization grow over the last 40 years and have actually seen it when it was a strong political voice and engaged with the off-reserve community. Sadly, I have also seen it in the last 10-15 years slowly become less effective as a political voice, less engaged with the off-reserve Aboriginal people and become an elite club that would rather spend money on lawyers against their own membership than use those lawyers to defend our Aboriginal and treaty rights.
Why has the NBAPC gone downhill after such a strong history? Many of you have commented that the reason is Lavallee's poor leadership skills, her lack of knowledge on Aboriginal issues, her lack of connection to our First Nation communities, her lack of political experience, and some have even suggested that she has other, more sinister motives. While I respect everyone's opinions, I always base my opinions on fact versus conjecture, but in this case, they proved to be one in the same.
I personally can speak to a time when the mood of the community was to have a non-confidence vote and remove Lavallee as President of NBAPC, so instead of dealing with the issue, she skipped the Annual General Meeting (AGM). At subsequent meetings, she claimed that she could not be removed as President because she was an employee of NBAPC and not a political leader. Her lawyer started appearing at more and more meetings, which had the effect (for many) of effectively silencing them.
If that does not say it all, I don't know what does. Our people elect leaders to speak for them, not to be lead by lawyers, consultants, or staff. The situation had become so bad, many people simply stopped participating. I for one, resigned as a member so that I could exercise my voice without fear of retaliation.
AGMs became more predicatible as Lavallee did not report on significant accomplishments she made for NBAPC each year, instead we got a copy of her calendar which said which days she was in the office and which days she was out sick. As members started to speak out, ask questions and demand more, Lavallee started to attend AGMs and board meetings with her lawyer.
We knew then that there was no getting rid of her unless she left voluntarily. Then when Patrick Brazeau jumped ship to become a conservative Senator, Lavallee set her sights on CAP. As I explained in my last blog, many off-reserve folks thought that the only way to get rid of her in NB was to vote her in as President of CAP, because CAP's Constitution and By-laws had a specific provision that would allow votes of non-confidence.
As expected, Lavallee was voted in as President and CAP has been dying a slow death ever since. However, while I used to think it was a capacity issue: poor leadership skills and a lack of knowledge and experience - I was shocked to find out it was her plan all along. It is no accident that CAP is dying, in fact when Lavallee was President of the NBAPC AND the Vice-President of CAP, she called for CAP to be dismantled!
It gets worse than this - not only did she want CAP to be dismantled, but she wanted the financial support to be funnelled back east to support her organization and that of those affiliated with the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council (MAPC) an organization that represents the NBAPC, Native Council of Nova Scotia (NCNS) and the Native Council of PEI (NCPEI).
How do I know this? Well, today I was sent a copy of a letter dated May 28, 2009 that was addressed to Fred Caron, ADM of the Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Metis and Non-Status Indians, and signed by Lavallee when she was President of NBAPC and Vice-President of CAP. It is not posted online anywhere, so I will reproduce the text below (all the grammar and spelling mistakes are from the letter itself):
"As you know, for many years now we have discussed the idea of ways we could make the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council more recognized as a real credible organization. In the East, we have run it so far as a formal group but now I think it is the right time to go further and officially recognize the important role it plays for Aboriginal people here in Eastern Canada.
It is the right time to do this now when you consider the problems that CAP is facing now as a National organization. We seen the failure of OMAA in 2005 and also the addition of some affiliates in the West that are very questionable.
We are very concerned that the new affiliates in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan still don't get core funding and do not have real membership. This hurts the national organization in terms of credibility as well as reputation and it is not fair for the Eastern PTO's. We should not have to suffer because these groups cannot get their organizations running effectively.
Maybe the time has come to turn away from CAP and to regroup around the east where the affiliates are running very well and have real and successful operations. We have a long and successful history compared to those in the West and we play by the rules. I am worried that if we continue to be a part of a national organization with serious and many debt and governance problems that other PTOs have created we in the East will ultimately be severely affected."
Not only was Lavallee trying to tank CAP when she was one of its provincial affiliates, but according to the Board, she was also the Vice-President of CAP at the time. I wonder if Brazeau was aware he was being stabbed in the back? That letter alone should have prevented her from running for the position as President of CAP given her obvious bias towards tanking it. It should also be at the top of the list for bringing about an immediate vote of non-confidence.
However, the issue that I am most concerned about regarding Lavallee, relates to the lack of voice by the grass roots people. They say that Lavallee NEVER consulted with her membership in NB about writing such a letter or taking such a position. Other members from other affiliates say they were never consulted by her keeping in mind she was the Vice-President at the time. To call for the end of the NBAPC's national organization should have been an agenda item at an AGM, it not a special consultation meeting in and of itself. I would also venture to guess that this should have been an agenda item at CAP's own board meeting.
What also strikes me is the hypocrisy of the letter. As former Vice-President and board member of CAP, it was her job to support the other affiliates and to direct resources towards assisting the other affiliates in obtaining core funding so that they could build capacity. Currently, as the President of CAP, the buck stops with her. If her affiliates are struggling, it is her job as a leader to make assisting those affiliates her number one priority. Instead, Board members report that she takes trips to places like Bolivia or the Olympics instead of taking care of what appears to be urgent business at CAP.
If CAP is failing, Lavallee need only point the finger at one person - herself, seeing as she is the President, Chief AND CEO of CAP.
I am told by members of the Board, that at CAP's recent governance training, the person who conducted the training was surprised that Lavallee was the President, Chief and CEO of CAP. They felt that this was highly unusual and apparently the discussion centred on the fact that it felt like a dictatorship. CAP has apparently mixed both the political side of the house with the administrative side which means that CAP mixes politics and business. I am also told that all employees must report to her and that politics often factors into daily administrative decisions. This might be one of the reasons why there are pending lawsuits against CAP - but I can't say for sure as I don't have copies of those lawsuits.
I am further told by various Board members that the level of dysfunction within CAP has increased ten-fold as Lavallee has been the centre of much in-fighting among the board. I have copies of e-mails and letters from Lavallee and the NBAPC President Kim McKinley which are appear to be particularly targeted at certain affiliates. If you read the above letter, it is no surprise that Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan bear the brunt of Lavallee's scorn.
The hypocrisy continues at the financial level as well. At CAP's last AGM it was reported to the members that CAP was in a major deficit of over $1.2 million dollars. Yet, no debt reduction strategy was presented to the AGM. Some board members of CAP estimate that CAP's deficit may well be close to $2 million dollars at this point. Assuming for a minute that the deficit is "only" $1.2 million, then CAP has a great deal of work to do to get back on track. There is no way to tell for sure, as CAP's website link to its "financial reports" does not contain any information:
How has CAP done this? Well, aside from Lavallee's trips to Bolivia and the Olympics, the board reports that she also gave herself a salary increase. While she wanted a much bigger increase, she did come away with a significant raise. Similarly, at Christmas time, the Board indicates that she gave herself a nice bonus of $1000 dollars and gave staff members all $500. At the same time, I had former staff contacting me saying they were being laid off due to budgetary issues. Something doesn't add up in CAP's math?
I am sure members of CAP's affiliates will be left wondering how Lavallee could possibly justify her own base salary given her lack of productivity for CAP, let alone salary increases, trips, and bonuses when CAP is in such serious financial troubles.
The Native Council of Canada used to mean something. It was part of the constitutional talks and intervened on many important matters for Aboriginal peoples living off reserve. Its name change to CAP has not brought with it a strong vision for uniting its affiliates across the country, nor has it engaged with the people who need it most - the off-reserve grass roots people. Instead, Lavallee has transported her dysfunctional, anti-CAP form of leadership from NB to Ottawa, and the grass roots people are paying the price.
Based on the information that I have been receiving about its internal dysfunction, I can only guess that CAP is slowly imploding - but not due to a lack of capacity. In fact, some might argue that this sad situation is not fate, but is being actively promoted by its own President - Betty-Ann Lavallee. In December 2010, CAP sent a letter to the Indigenous Peoples Confederacy (CAP's Manitoba affiliate) and said they were no longer in good standing with CAP. It appears as though CAP may be doing the same thing to Saskatchewan and one wonders if OACP is next? Some fear that Lavallee is well on the way to seeing her stated goal to fruition - the end of CAP and the rise of her Eastern Empire.
Lavallee: "the time has come to turn away from CAP and to regroup around the East"
I am not sure what the answer is, but surely it must involve the grass roots shaking the rotten apples from the tree and getting their organization back to where it used to be. I'd be happy to hear any feedback about the information in this blog or whether anyone cares about CAP anymore.