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The Abotech Affair: The first of a 2-part CBC Radio special report

Evan Dyer was able to confirm many of the factual accounts detailed on this blog, and in his first report, broadcast by CBC Radio One in Ottawa at 7:15am this morning, the focus was on the question of David Smith's aboriginal heritage.

Here are the major points:

  • David Smith grew up on a farm on the Algonquin reserve of the Kitigan Zibi band in Maniwaki, Quebec, though the farm itself was technically not part of the band lands that surrounded it.
  • David Smith does not claim to belong to the Kitigan Zibi, however, but rather is a self-declared Metis.
  • The basis of his self-declaration is that his great-grandmother was an aboriginal (not clear if she was a full status native or a Metis as well).
  • David Smith's twin brother Dan, is also self-declared, and is also acting as David Smith's campaign manager.
  • David Smith resents questions concerning his heritage, insisting that the subject is "personal" and "private".
  • Despite his assertion that his heritage is no business of ours, he did register his company Abotech as an aboriginal firm, making it eligible for aboriginal set-aside contracts.
  • Two members of the Kitigan Zibi band were asked for their opinion concerning David Smith's status. Chief Jean-Guy Whiteduck made it clear that he believes the claim to be specious, even if it followed all the rules. A counsellor added that despite his claim to be an aboriginal, and the pride he claims to derive from this status, David Smith has never delivered any benefit to the band in his capacity as a member of parliament for the governing party. Indeed, the counsellor seemed to feel the band was being ignored by their MP.
  • When asked about David Smith's support, or lack thereof, for his fellow aboriginals in Maniwaki, Dan Smith replied that their criticisms should be dismissed, since "they don't vote, these people". David Smith was not available for comment on this question. Dan Smith did not provide an explanation on why voting patterns were relevant in responding to the concerns of constituents, nor did he provide supporting evidence that the Kitigan Zibi participation in elections was any different from the population at large. He angrily repeated his "they don't vote" claim several times as a the reason that their criticisms ought to be ignored.

In the discussion of the story with Ottawa Morning host Anthony Germain, Evan Dyer helped focus the core question concerning David Smith's heritage issue. David Smith's application for status might have met the standard for the particular organization that maintained the list (though Dyer pointed out that a previous president of the organization was caught selling memberships for cash), the spirit of the set-aside program is obvious.

Contracts are set aside for aboriginals because aboriginal businesses on the whole are disadvantaged by way of their physical location (isolated on reserves), depth of education (generally less of a pool of qualified post-secondary graduates from which to draw staff), and general discrimination.

None of these apply to Abotech, an "aboriginal" firm only inasmuch as the president (and sole employee) was able to find a single member of his family three generations back who was an aboriginal. The firm itself hired no aboriginal employees from the band, and was run out of a comfortable three-bedroom home in a suburb of Ottawa. As a university graduate, as a former high-ranking employee of Public Works, and as a sitting member of parliament for the governing party, Abotech certainly did not require the boost of aboriginal registration to be noticed by the contracting authorities at Public Works. Note that David Smith claims that none of the contracts Abotech had were set-asides.

The CBC report points out that this is not relevant. The program is designed to help those who need help, and David Smith's entry in the program suggests a person out to get whatever he feels he is entitled to, regardless of his need, or how it might impact others.

Indeed, Anthony and Evan point out that this behaviour reinforces the perception of the Liberal Party being populated from the highest level in cabinet down to the freshest backbenchers with people who have truly bought into the "culture of entitlement". A question they posed but that no one could answer was whether this will have any affect on the votes in Pontiac, one of the few ridings where the Conservative Party has a real chance to win with candidate Lawrence Cannon.

Ottawa Morning is the highest rate morning program in the area.

Another question: Will Dan Smith's small rant about not wasting one's time listening to the opinion of "these people" who don't vote have an impact as well? To suggest that the only constituents who matter are those who vote, and indeed that an aboriginal candidate who makes pains to declare his status (it figures prominently on David Smith's Liberal Party bio) cares only about aboriginals who bother voting dramatically reinforces the perception of a party and a candidate with the most cynical attitudes about their obligations to their constituents, and to Canadians in general.

Tomorrow's piece will move from the question of David Smith's use of aboriginal status. Instead the focus will be on Abotech itself, the nature of the business, its relationship with the government, and the work that it does.

Tomorrow's live broadcast is available on the internet, and will run sometime between 7:15am and 7:50am. I have asked for, and will be receiving, a tape of two broadcasts, and I'll endeavour to make it available online.

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