Ontario Regional Chief responds to federal budget

TORONTO, March 5 /CNW/ - Regional Chief Angus Toulouse indicated that he is disappointed that First Nations are once again left out of plans to improve competitiveness and innovation in the Canadian economy. The federal government has its Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development but it does not go far enough in eliminating the barriers that First Nations experience in trying to participate fully in the Canadian economy. "It has been said many times that the First Nations population is the youngest and fastest growing segment of the Canadian population. We have natural resources, we have First Nations that want to partner with industry, and we have a large pool of future talent to participate in the workforce but there is not enough support from the federal government, or a comprehensive plan to move forward in a significant way," said Chief Toulouse. He further noted that advancing First Nations economies will benefit not only the First Nations but surrounding communities, and Canada as a whole.

The Chief also points out that both the First Nations and the federal government have repeatedly identified education as priority. "We know that educating our people is the key to moving from poverty and marginalization to prosperity and independence. We need more than announcements and processes - we need to see targeted investments supporting the education of our children from early learning to post-secondary," said Chief Toulouse. He noted that the announcement by the federal government to work with First Nations on post-secondary education and enhancing governance and accountability in education is positive and that the First Nations will hold the government to their commitment to work with First Nations in improving education outcomes. "We've heard these words before but they need to actually follow through. We will hold the government to their commitment to work with us and not dictate and impose policies and programs that will not be effective for our children and youth," stated Chief Toulouse.

Chief Toulouse expressed support for the federal government's move to renew the First Nations Water and Wastewater program (FNWWAP) but emphasized the importance of following through on their commitment to work with First Nations to develop a new and improved approach to funding infrastructure needs on reserves. "The renewal of the FNWWAP program is very important but a much more strategic approach is needed along with appropriate levels of funding to meet the needs of the growing First Nations population, infrastructure backlog and geographic challenges," stated Chief Toulouse. He also noted that the current levels of funding, including with the renewal of the FNWWAP program, still do not address the infrastructure backlog in Ontario First Nation communities.

Chief Toulouse indicated that First Nations have worked hard to ensure that critical health programs that are seeing some benefit at the community level were also renewed for an additional two years. These programs included the Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, Maternal Child Health and Youth Suicide Prevention among others. "Certainly First Nations welcome the renewal of these programs but we were looking for an enhanced investment especially in relation to funding for youth suicide prevention. We will continue to advocate with both the federal and provincial government on this," said Chief Toulouse.

Overall Chief Toulouse indicated that the advocacy efforts of First Nations did result in some key program areas being renewed by the federal government but he emphasized that increased strategic investments are required in education, supporting First Nation economies, infrastructure and health in order to move beyond simply maintaining the status quo to realizing significant progress in these areas.

SOURCE Chiefs of Ontario

For further information: For further information: Pam Hunter, Ph: (416) 522-0706, Email: phunter@coo.org

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