Disappointing Federal Budget Does not Include First Nations in a “Stronger, Better” Canada
March 27, 2007
First Nations leaders across the country are outraged and deeply disheartened by the lack of investment for our peoples in last Monday’s federal budget.
Frankly, our people do not see any reason to believe that the government cares about the shameful conditions of First Nations. This federal budget goes far towards cutting taxes and paying down the national debt – but there is no mention of dealing with the huge debt to First Nations in the form of nearly 1,000 outstanding land claims. The recent Senate Report on specific claims – Negotiation or Confrontation: It’s Canada’s Choice – the title says it all.
There is $69 million in new spending over the next two years, and an additional $300 million which was announced in last year’s budget to support private home ownership for First Nations. It is notable that there is no comprehensive plan or investment in our children, our families, and our communities. Instead, we see billions of dollars in spending on everything from museum interns, to foreign workers, and to tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest in this country.
Even more troubling, perhaps, is the ongoing implication in the budget that somehow First Nations already receive enough, and that it is not being managed well. I call on all First Nations leaders to join me to reject this argument. We have to show them that the $9.1 billion they repeat so often does not get to our communities. In fact, our governments have suffered under declining resources because of discriminatory fiscal treatment, and that our schools, our community centers, our essential community services, and our people are suffering as a result.
Canadians believe in fairness, and trust that no one should be left behind in prosperous times. I can only believe that they would be alarmed if they knew about the devastating consequences for First Nations given the lack of attention that First Nations have received in this budget. It is clear that the frustration of our people is growing, and this budget does nothing to allay their concerns.
It is clear that the circumstances of First Nations peoples remain a black mark on Canada. It’s an enormous burden, not just on our people, but the whole country. We prefer to turn this situation around so that First Nations are more effective contributors to Canada’s prosperity. We need to be able create opportunities, not continue to miss out on them.
Nowhere is the fiscal imbalance more apparent than in the under-funding of First Nations health, child welfare, education, housing and infrastructure. No other Canadian group has had to endure a two-percent cap on funding that has now been in place for over a decade.
Our population continues to grow and the poverty gap continues to widen. Monday’s budget only contributes to the imbalance by providing $39 billion over seven years to the provinces, without any comparable attention to First Nations.
This government continues to ignore the devastating socio-economic conditions of First Nations. There's $22 billion to pay down the debt, yet nothing to address Canada's constitutional obligations to First Nations.
In November 2005, First Nations had a plan that was unanimously accepted by the Premiers and Aboriginal leaders. As an Opposition MP at the time, Minister Prentice said: "the fight against aboriginal poverty is the most pressing social issue that our country faces … and as Conservatives, we believe something has to be done."
However, in addition to rejecting First Nations in the budget on March 19th, on March 21st, the government voted against Private Member’s Bill C-292, which requires the government to honour the $5.1 billion Kelowna Accord. The Bill passed the House of Commons and is now on to the Senate. However, this government insists it has no obligation to honour funding requirements in Private Member’s Bills.
It should be clear that as part of these critical investments, First Nations of this country seek a commitment to structural change. The First Nations – Federal Crown Political Accord on the Recognition and Implementation of First Nation Governments (signed in May 2005) provides an exit strategy from the current policies and structures that restrict our communities and condemn our people to maintaining the status quo conditions of poverty.
Minister Prentice committed to the process established under the Accord at a meeting of BC First Nations last year. I call upon him to act to replace fundamentally flawed government processes and policies.
In the weeks and months to come we must re-focus our energies and coordinate our efforts so that our voices will be heard. I look forward to working with the National Executive and all First Nations organizations to carefully plan and maximize opportunities to strengthen our case and our conviction.