AFN National Chief Calls Federal Budget a "Bitter Disappointment"

    OTTAWA, Feb. 27 /CNW Telbec/ - Assembly of First Nations National Chief
Phil Fontaine called the federal budget released yesterday a "bitter
disappointment for First Nations and a missed opportunity for all Canadians."
    "It is disheartening that this government sets out reducing the cost of a
toaster by a couple cents as a national objective, but not helping First
Nations children finish high school or grow up in safe homes. That this
government can afford billions of dollars to rebuild Afghanistan but not
support schooling, healthcare or jobs for First Nations. It is difficult to
believe Canadians support these priorities," the National Chief stated.
    The federal budget released yesterday by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty
contained very little in the way of new initiatives for First Nations and
relied on re-announcements and the re-profiling of existing resources.
Resources targeted at First Nations health have potential but more details are
required, and these resources are contingent on First Nations striking deals
with other governments so there are no guarantees the resources will flow.
Equally important, more investments are needed to address the determinants of
First Nations health.
    "The Conservative government has repeatedly let down First Nations since
they took office," National Chief Fontaine said. "They promised to 'put
wheels' on the Kelowna Accord. That was three budgets ago and First Nations
are still waiting. We can not wait any longer. Canadians understand that First
Nations are the key to Canada's place as a competitive and productive country.
Canada needs skilled workers to fill jobs and First Nations are the youngest,
fastest growing population in the country. That presents a tremendous
opportunity for a solution that is good for the Canadian economy, good for
communities, good for First Nations, and good for Canada."
    The National Chief noted a 2007 study by the Canadian Centre for the
Study of Living Standards which found that, if investments were made to bring
First Nations education levels up to those of the rest of the population,
Canadians would see an additional $71.1 Billion added to the national economy.
Under the current system, however, First Nations students receive on average
$2,000 less than students in mainstream schools.
    "Unfortunately, the government doesn't get it," the National Chief said.
"They do not see the potential that could be unlocked by graduating students
from school or the role of First Nations in helping to deal with the labour
shortage so severe in parts of this country. Fundamentally, they do not feel
any responsibility to address the third world poverty conditions that exist
within this country. It is inconceivable that the government could have found
new ways to spend over a hundred billion dollars since coming to office, and
that none of that would lead towards a real, comprehensive plan to move First
Nations from poverty to prosperity."
    National Chief Fontaine pointed to the Alternative Federal Budget
released earlier in the week as a progressive economic policy plan that would
be welcomed by First Nations.
    "The Alternative Federal Budget shows practical, fiscally responsible
solutions for First Nations that can be achieved within the current economic
framework," said the National Chief. "This government actively chose not to do
so. I travel to First Nations communities and meet with First Nations citizens
every day, and I can say clearly that frustration is growing and patience is
at an end. First Nations have instructed the AFN to plan for a second National
Day of Action. We are looking for a day of solidarity with Canadians, and a
day of protest against this government. We need Canadians, we are asking
Canadians, to stand up and tell the Conservative government that this neglect,
this disinterest, does not reflect the values of this country. This is no
longer just about First Nations, this is about our shared future."

For further information:

For further information: Karyn Pugliese, AFN Communications (Health and
Social Development), (613) 241-6789 ext. 210, cell.: (613) 292-1877,; Don Kelly, AFN Communications Advisor, (613) 241-6789 ext.
341, cell.: (613) 292-2787,

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