OTTAWA – The federal Liberal government plans to spend $4.5 billion over the next five years to try to narrow the socio-economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – part of a plan to keep reconciliation at the forefront of this fall’s campaign narrative.
Speaking to reporters, Finance Minister Bill Morneau stressed the Liberals have been committed to reconciliation from the beginning of their mandate.
“It is a continuation of what we’ve been doing since Day 1,” Morneau said. “It is driven by the fact that we know in this country, we need to get this right. We’ve got a lot of work to do and we are going to stay on it.”
After the fiscal blueprint was tabled, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said he thought the government is moving in the right direction while he stressed the need to get resources out to communities to ensure they have meaningful impacts on the ground.
“If we are going to have true reconciliation in Canada, we have to close the gap,” Bellegarde said. “We have to maintain the momentum for that.”
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Part of Tuesday’s budget pledge is $1.2 billion over three years – $404 million per year beginning in 2019-2020 – to develop a long-term approach for services for First Nations children.
The policy is named after a Manitoba First Nations boy from Norway House Cree Nation, Jordan River Anderson, who had multiple disabilities. When he was two years old, doctors recommended he move to a special home suited to his medical needs.
He died three years later, after jurisdictional squabbles between federal and provincial governments over payment for his care.
“It should be no surprise that we continue to deal with issues, like Jordan’s Principle, that we’ve been talking about for a long time,” Morneau said.
The budget also includes plans to invest $220 million over five years, beginning in 2019-2020, to provide services to Inuit children who face unique challenges to get health and social services due to the remoteness of their communities and limited availability of culturally appropriate care.
The Liberal government is communicating in the budget it is serious about its commitment to Indigenous Peoples, said Rebekah Young, the director of fiscal and provincial economics with Scotiabank.
“We are looking at almost $5 billion (in new spending) over five years, of a total budget spend of $20 billion,” she said. “We are talking about a quarter of the budget.”
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The federal budget also includes plans to act on calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that spent six years probing the dark legacy of Canada’s residential schools.
The spending plan includes $126.5 million in 2020-21 to establish a national council on reconciliation designed to be a permanent reminder of the fraught past between Canada and Indigenous Peoples and to contribute to better understanding of it.
There is also $333.7 million over the next five years earmarked for helping to revitalize Indigenous languages – a move that follows legislation introduced in February.
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The funding will help create a commissioner of Indigenous languages, the budget said, adding that only one in seven Indigenous children reports being able to carry on a conversation in an Indigenous language.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said there is no relationship more important than the Canadian government’s with Indigenous Peoples, though some Indigenous leaders and the federal NDP have raised concerns about the rate of progress.