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Dene Nation, GNWT at odds over federal health funding

The Dene Nation has accused the territorial government of withholding over $1 million in federal funding from it.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says his organization is now months behind in rent and bill payments as a result.

Erasmus claims the funding is meant to go to the Dene Nation from Health Canada as part of an agreement that’s been in place since the 1970s.

“The territorial government has to provide these funds to the Dene Nation,” said Erasmus in a statement.

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“These are Indian monies from Treasury Board to Health Canada intended wholly to benefit our Dene communities.”

Erasmus says the Dene Nation is entitled to $165,000 a year from the federal government as part of the national health framework agreement.

Since 1988, that money has been funneled to the Dene Nation through the territorial government. But according to Erasmus, it stopped coming in 2008.

The Dene Nation believes funds are being withheld because the GNWT wants it to comply with its payroll tax.

Unsurprisingly, the government holds a very different view.

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“The GNWT does not owe the Dene Nation $1 million,” said Bill Merklinger, comptroller general for the territorial government.

“In fact, the Dene Nation owes the GNWT just over $352,000 as of April 22, 2016.”

Merklinger claims the territorial government has been applying funds under the health agreement and that the Dene Nation has accumulated debt for not deducting payroll tax from its employees.

“We provided a detailed account history and showed that, in fact, we weren’t withholding the Health Canada funds,” he said.

“We were applying them but given the payroll tax that was outstanding, the net result was still a debt owed to the GNWT.

“Their perspective is not consistent with the facts.”

Under the law, Merklinger says the Dene Nation is required to register as a payroll tax collector and deduct and submit payroll tax from employee salaries.

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Dene leaders will be meeting in Yellowknife from Tuesday to Thursday where they’re expected to discuss the issue further.

Merklinger is hopeful a resolution can be found but says the government’s stance will not change.

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