APTN National News
The federal Liberal government unveiled a $305 billion federal budget Wednesday that will see hundreds of millions of dollars in new investments flow to Indigenous communities and peoples this fiscal year.
Overall, the federal budget commits to providing $3.4 billion in new money over the next five years for First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples and communities. This money is in addition to the $8.4 billion announced in last year’s federal budget which was also spread over five years.
The two figures would bring total new federal investments targeting Indigenous peoples and communities to $14 billion by 2021-2022—two years after the next federal election.
“Together, we will build stronger, more resilient communities and renew our nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, Inuit and Metis,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau, in his budget speech to the House of Commons. “We will help break down employment barriers, with a focus on skills development, training and better education.”
In his speech, Morneau claimed the new funding—which represents an increase of 27 per cent in spending between 2015-16 and 2021-2022—proves the Justin Trudeau Liberal government has erased the two per cent cap first imposed by the Liberals under Jean Chretien in 1996-1997 to control spending.
“This represents an increase of 27 per cent, well in excess of the decades-old two per cent funding cap,” said Morneau. “And will contribute to a higher quality of life on reserves. All this, while setting Canada on a path toward true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
Morneau’s statement blurs the reality of the two per cent cap which limits how much funding Indigenous Affairs gets year-over-year.
The new investments announced by the Liberal government are time specific—between five years to 11 years—and their permanence depends on the economic climate and the goodwill of government at the time.
The previous Conservative government’s spending increases on the Indigenous file, which was also based budget to budget, routinely exceeded two per cent year-over-year.
The Assembly of First Nations and the Trudeau government are currently negotiating a new fiscal arrangement to replace the two per cent cap with a larger escalator.
The biggest piece of money in the Indigenous envelope—$1.15 billion over five years—targeted on-reserve infrastructure like housing, water treatment systems, health facilities and other similar projects. The money is part of a $4 billion package the Liberal budget said will be spread over 10 years. None of the new infrastructure money will be invested this year. A first instalment of $275 million will flow next year, with a matching amount to follow in 2019-2020, the next election year. The budget says a total of $600 million is slated to roll out in 2021 and 2022.
The budget also promises $828 million over five years for First Nation and Inuit health, including $305 million for the non-insured health benefits program including $86 million to expand access to mental health services, $184 million for home and palliative care and $118 million for mental health programming.
The new health funding also includes $83 million, over five years, to expand maternal and child health services for families with children under six years of age. The budget also sets aside $72 million for primary care, $50 million for chronic and infectious diseases and $15 million for a drug reduction strategy.
The Liberal budget promises new money for northern and off-reserve housing, but the money is spread out over 11 years. The budget sets aside $300 million for northern housing with about $240 million going to Nunavut, $36 million to the Northwest Territories and $24 million to the Yukon.
Budget 2017 additionally offers $225 million over 11 years in funding for housing providers that serve off-reserve Indigenous peoples. The funding is also earmarked to take over from the former Urban Native Housing Program.
The budget also commits to continuing to fund Friendship Centres in urban areas with $118.5 million spread out over five years.
The Liberal government, in support of plans to introduce legislation to protect and promote Indigenous languages, said it will invest $89.9 million over the next three years on the file. The budget earmarks $69 million of that total to enhance Indigenous language initiatives like learning materials, language classes, culture camps and archiving.
Library and Archives Canada will receive $14.9 million through the same envelope to digitize existing Indigenous languages and cultural materials along with the development of an “Aboriginal Oral Testimonies Project” to document Indigenous heritage. The National Research Council will also receive receive $6 million to develop information technology aimed at preserving oral histories by converting speech to text, along with other interactive materials.
On the justice front, the federal budget commits $56 million over five years to promote restorative justice, $65 million on rehabilitating and reintegrating Indigenous offenders and $82 million for policing services in First Nations communities.
Budget 2017 also promises $250 million over five years for programs supporting Indigenous fisheries.
While the budget provided no new funding for on-reserve K to 12 education beyond the $2.6 billion over five years promised in the last budget, it does set aside $90 million for First Nations post-secondary education.
The federal budget also commits $24 million, on an ongoing basis, to resolve specific claims which deal with historical grievances over lost lands and mishandled trust fund monies.