Mixed reaction to $8.4B budgeted for indigenous people
OTTAWA -- The Liberals’ plan to spend $8.4 billion over five years to improve the lives of indigenous people is getting mixed reviews from Aboriginal leaders, with some calling it a historic investment and others saying it’s not enough.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde was among those who called it a “historic day” and “a significant first step.”
“It's way better than Kelowna,” Bellegarde said, referring to the $5-billion 10-year agreement signed by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005 but never fully implemented after the Conservatives took office in 2006.
Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Dwight Dorey, who works on behalf of indigenous people living off-reserve, called the budget “a good start and a positive change in attitude from the previous government who continually slashed crucial funding.”
Sheila North Wilson, Grand Chief of the northern Manitoba First Nations group MKO was more hesitant, calling the money is only “a deposit on a historic reset.”
North Wilson told CTV News Channel that, compared to “the amount that our communities need and, you know, dreamed about,” the $8.4 billion “is not enough.”
North Wilson said that the 30 First Nations and roughly 65,000 people she represents need at least $2 billion of immediate investments in housing alone, not to mention upgrades to schools, clean water and other infrastructure.
“The need is right now,” the chief said. “There’s no time for broken promises.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fell short on his promises to indigenous Canadians.
“The promise to close the gap on education, they didn’t do that,” Mulcair told CTV Power Play host Don Martin.
“It’s a step in the right direction -- call it a down payment if you will,” he added. “But the Liberals broke their promises.”
Cindy Blackstock, president of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, said she is disappointed by the government's pledge on child and family services.
Blackstock, a social worker who won a challenge at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal over funding for on-reserve child welfare services, said she was looking for $200-million per year.
"My feeling is, that bar falls far below what is required to meet the order that is required by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal," Blackstock said.
"It is $71 million in year one and then $99 million in year two,” she said. “If you look at the overall figure it is over $600 million, but that's back-ended."
David Chartrand, President of the Manitoba Metis Federation, told CTV News Channel that budgets “can’t please everyone,” adding “I’m one of those that are not fully pleased.”
“However, I still have faith, I have hope,” he said. “I have to place trust in this young prime minister.”
Chartrand said that the budget overall is good for Canada, adding that aspects of it will help “the mothers, the children and the elders."
The roadmap outlined in Tuesday’s budget includes:
- $1.8 billion over five years to improve water quality on reserves
- $2.6 billion over five years for primary and secondary education, including what’s left from funding announced by the Conservatives in 2014
- $635 million has been allocated to strengthen the First Nation Child and Family Services program over five years
- $554.3 million over two years to address poor housing conditions
- $270 million over five years for health care infrastructure, including repair of nursing stations
- $10.4 million over three years to for renovation and construction of shelters for victims of violence
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said he was proud of the plan. “We simply cannot claim to be successful as a country as long as indigenous peoples aren’t given every chance to succeed,” he said Tuesday after tabling the budget.
With files from The Canadian Press