Federal Budget - The First Nations are in dire need of pressing investment for housing, job creation and education



    WENDAKE, QC, Jan. 27 /CNW Telbec/ - The Chief of the Assembly of the
First Nations of Quebec and Labrador (AFNQL), Ghislain Picard, is expecting a
budget that will take into account the past commitments of the government, a
budget that really answers the pressing needs of Quebec's First Nations.
"Faced with the countless challenges and problems that overburden us, the
federal government has the duty to act. We will not accept once again to be
neglected by the measures that will be announced today", stated the Chief.
    Chief Picard underlines that, in spite of the Kelowna Accord, in spite of
the conclusions of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and in spite of
the numerous other commitments and findings from the different governments in
place for decades, Ottawa has never really walked the talk in the numerous
important and urgent files of the First Nations.
    In order not to be left out in the recovery plan of the Canadian economy
that will be announced in today's federal budget, the AFNQL has made its
priorities known, priorities that have been known for a long time, having been
in fact the object of discussions at the First Nations Socioeconomic Forum of
Mashteuiatsh, in 2006. At that Forum, the AFNQL had announced its "Mission of
10,000 possibilities", which targets the creation of 10,000 jobs, the
construction of 10,000 houses and the return to school of 10,000 First Nation
youth drop-outs.
    Concerning housing, Chief Picard reminds that the immediate need amounts
to 8,800 new units, in Quebec only, which require a minimal investment of 1.5
billion dollars. Consequently, the measures which seem to be in today's
budget, do not properly meet the needs. The worst of it all is that the sums
that will be announced should have been made available in 2008. "Last year,
the federal government announced a lump sum of 600 millions dollars, which
never materialized. Today, the Finance Minister gives the impression of
wanting to update this announcement, by leading us to believe that he is
meeting the needs of the First Nations. It's outrageous", states the revolted
Chief, Ghislain Picard.

    A Never-ending Crisis

    First Nations have been living the economic crisis for many generations
already. They are faced with constant challenges: alarming unemployment rates,
job opportunities that are almost non-existent in the communities, a growing
demography, as well as houses that are insufficient and unfit for habitation.
These are just a few of the major challenges which the Councils and the
associations must deal with, and let's not forget, all this is taking place
under a regime of trusteeship of the federal government. "We could never
benefit from a stimulation plan, in spite of the necessity to support our
infrastructures and our economy", laments Ghislain Picard.
    Most of all, the AFNQL denounces the limit of 2% imposed since 1996 on
the expenses made within the scope of programs and services intended for First
Nations. This limit, which is not harmonized with the inflation rate or with
the population growth, was disastrous for the communities. "The government
needs to abolish immediately this limit and adopt a method of financial
indexation that is appropriate for the basic programs, such as education,
housing and infrastructures", specified Chief Picard.
    In view of this generalized impasse, the AFNQL took a commitment towards
an initiative of assertion of the sovereignty of the First Nations of Quebec
and Labrador. Far from being a gesture of rupture with whom ever, the
strengthening of First Nations sovereignty aims at reestablishing with clarity
the order of things which must prevail. "It is up to the First Nations to take
the decisions which concern them and thus, insure a type of development which
corresponds to the needs and interests of their populations. We know our
problems and we also know the solutions. Now, we need the federal government
to act as a real partner", explains Ghislain Picard.

    The Chief of the Assembly of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador,
Ghislain Picard, will be available in the late afternoon to comment on the
budget.




For further information:

For further information: Claude Picard, AFNQL, (418) 842-5020


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