Canada’s government released a 2011–12 budget on June 6 that, aside from an allocation for completing a long-promised northern highway, did little to invest in the promises made in the Speech from the Throne, aboriginal leaders said.
“Last week’s Speech from the Throne committed to renewing and deepening the relationship between First Nations and the government,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “That has to include fair and stable support for First Nations to improve the conditions in our communities and increase opportunities for success. Our people have been under-funded for many years now and we see the results in the poor conditions in too many of our communities and the poor health of too many of our people. This budget does not deliver on these very real needs.”
The budget also differed little from the one submitted March 22, which the opposition rejected, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) pointed out. The government fell three days later, prompting the May 2 election.
A major addition, APTN said, was for a $2.2 billion harmonized sales tax agreement with Quebec and the first part of the phase-out of a political-party subsidy. The government expects a $32 billion deficit for 2011-2012, APTN reported.
In terms of investments in aboriginal interests, the 2011 budget allocates $150 million toward “construction of an all-season road between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk, both in the Northwest Territories, that completes the Dempster Highway, “connecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast,” the Finance Ministry said in a release. This earned accolades from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s president, Mary Simon, when mentioned in the Speech from the Throne.
The budget also allocates $22 million over two years to help First Nations bring fuel tanks in line with environmental-safety standards and commits $30 million over two years to the First Nation Policing Program, as well as putting $8 million toward clean-energy technologies.
But, as Atleo pointed out, it still leaves First Nations funding capped at a two percent increase annually, which it has been since 1996, while provinces receive six percent increases annually.
“As in the Speech from the Throne, we must move together to get to ‘concerted action.’ We are ready to do the work and this must get underway immediately,” he said. “With a willing partner in the federal government, we can get the work done.”
He said that “critical investments” must be made by 2012, “an aggressive but necessary timeline to get the work done later this year.”
“Our children and our families cannot wait,” he said. “As a country, we all have much at stake. We cannot afford to lose another generation. We have the plans and by working together we can build a brighter future for our children and a stronger Canada.”