The stories about the latest crisis unfolding on a native reserve far, far away are front and centre in the newspapers again, and I have been involved in some kitchen table conversations with various friends who have a lot of opinions about what has happened and what hasn't, in places like Attawapiskat.
Some of what I have been hearing in recent days is tinged with racism, and some of it is just simply misinformed. I confess to a lot of ignorance on these issues, too, so I went looking at the money part of the equation, leaving aside the questions that arise from the legacy of residential schools.
There are widely varied public reports of how much federal money actually flows to Attawapiskat each year, but from what I can gather, is it's somewhere about 100 million dollars a year. That's 100 million dollars annually to cover all the housing, all the health care, including mental health services, all the education, all the roads, water and sewer services, any firefighters, plus salaries for the people who provide all of the above to the about 2000 people who live there.
Let's compare, shall we? The budget for the municipality where I live was 66.8 million dollars this year for road and sidewalk plowing, asphalt, recreation facilities, salt, firefighters, salaries and services, but not for education or health care for the 18-thousand people who live in Collingwood.
My local hospital's budget is around 300 million from the province, but that figure doesn't include doctors' pay. I have no idea what is spent on the twice-a-year doctor appointments my husband and I average. There are also at least five mental-health counsellors working full time in a facility near the hospital; is there a way to know what it costs to house them, in addition to their pay?
The province pays for the nurses who work at the hospice. The province also subsidizes a lot of daycare spaces, while the feds are increasing the payment to parents this coming July to somewhere around 5K per kid per year, depending on your income.
The county spends another 300 million or so on things like welfare and operating the social housing units in our town, picking up trash, recycling and compost, and let's not forget the county-run old age home and the county-designated roads, which require plows and salt.
Do you know how much is shelled out on your kids' schools, including the salaries of teachers, support workers and janitors? How about the buses? I'd love to have a dollar figure per kid across Ontario, but I bet it's somewhere around 150k per child, and let's not forget the millions that flow to colleges and universities before you pay the tuition.
If only we could compare the raw dollars and then consider how much more it costs to do things up north before suggesting that the reserves are wasteful or corrupt or stupid.
It's possible some of the millions going to places like Attawapiskat is indeed wasted, but I'd wager if it were all added up, the number of dollars spent per person down here is much, much higher than what is spent on our fellow Canadian citizens on reserve.
Furthermore, after the report that came to Collingwood's town council recently about a dire lack of available information about the sale of half of COLLUS a few years ago, no one in this town should have even one word to say about a lack of reporting or mismanaged record-keeping elsewhere.