The 2018 federal budget, released Tuesday, contains a chapter called “reconciliation.” It earmarks $4.8 billion in new spending for Indigenous people. That means Ottawa has pledged $16.5 billion for Indigenous communities over the past three years.
Cathy McLeod, the Conservative shadow minister for Crown-Indigenous relations, says more should have been done to make communities economically independent.
“Where I would say the big gap and lack is creating that positive economic future supporting for these communities, whether it be new ways of looking at resource sharing,” said McLeod on N2N’s political panel. “So I think that’s the big gap. Because I think (executive chair of the First Nations Financial Management Board) Harold Calla is right is the housing issue alone is absolutely enormous. We need to find and support communities to be prosperous.”
The 2018 budget also comes with a whopping $18.1 billion deficit, putting future spending in jeopardy.
“These kinds of deficits eventually lead to severe cutbacks and as First Nations know,” NDP MP Niki Ashton told N2N host Todd Lamirande, “it’s often First Nations that are cut first in times of austerity and recession.”
As well, the budget earmarked $1.3 billion for conservation. Valerie Courtois, director of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, called the amount of spending unprecedented.
“I don’t know of any other instance of where there was such a large investment in conservation in the federal budget,” she said.
“The fact they’ve said that this is going to be done in partnership with Indigenous governments and in the spirit of reconciliation and a nation-to-nation relationship are all good things for us to hear. But the devil’s in the details.”
It could boost spending on Indigenous-led conservation programs such as the Indigenous Guardians. Courtois spearheaded the program where Indigenous people are hired to monitor ecological health, maintain cultural sites and protect sensitive areas and species and play a vital role in creating land-use and marine-use plans.
“The most innovative, bold and frankly successful conservation proposals have all come from Indigenous peoples. So we expect that trend to continue,” said Courtois.
Also on N2N was a look back at last night’s Senate committee on Aboriginal peoples. It’s studying how Bill C-45, the new Cannabis law, will impact Indigenous people.
Manny Jules is chief commissioner of the First Nations Tax Commission. He argued that First Nations should have taxation powers over the production and sale of marijuana.
“They could be used to finance infrastructure and improve health care and education. In addition to the tax powers, First Nations would be responsible for certain aspects of the regulatory framework including business licensing zoning and enforcement.”
Manitoba Senator Mary Jane McCallum expressed concern at the speed with which the bill is being pushed through Parliament.
“I don’t want to be seen as someone that said, ‘Okay let’s pass this legislation,’” she said.
“I need to be ethical. I need to look at the moral stuff and say with what I see I really disagree with how fast this is moving considering that we’ve known about it for how many years, two years?”
Chief Randall Phillips of the Oneida Nation of the Thames agreed.
“We’re going through the same thing. We’re not ready for it. But here it is. So unfortunately we have to get ready for it.”