Indigenous peoples have survived generations of injustice and neglect, capped off by the Conservative government’s programming cuts and a 2% cap on education funding since 1996 (leaving First Nations students $20 billion behind provincially funded schools). This was all in addition to an inhumane housing and infrastructure deficit. Clearly, any reversal in this trajectory would is welcomed. But to make a significant impact in the day to day lives of people living on reserve, the Liberal government must do far better than what is offered in Budget 2016.
There are three key areas where the budget fails to score points:
- A hefty portion of the funds are allocated for the first year of the government’s next mandate. For example, First Nations education is earmarked for $2.6 billion overall, but only $1.15 billion of that is available within the next 3.5 years. The remaining $1.45 billion will only be available after the next federal election when the funds are needed now.
- The level of funding is inadequate to finance the essential infrastructure that is so desperately needed in First Nations across the country. Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s own figures suggest that, at minimum, $8 billion is needed to bring safe drinking water to the current number of households. This budget sets aside a paltry $618 million.
- There is no funding at all set aside for some of the real and important promises made during the campaign period – follow through on the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the pledge to implement full Aboriginal and treaty rights.
Indigenous peoples and their issues have been downplayed by successive federal governments for far too long and there had been hope that things would change this time around. Sadly, this is not the case.
Figures provided by: Dr. Pam Palmater, Ryerson University