The Chiefs of Ontario Give Failing Grade to Harper Government Federal Budget

    TORONTO, March 20 /CNW/ - Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse today
gave a failing grade to the Harper Governments' second Federal budget. "The
federal budget announced yesterday is a significant disappointment for First
Nations in Ontario. Minister Prentice and this government have repeatedly
stated that they are committed to closing the gap in the quality of life
between First Nations and the rest of Canada yet they have done next to
nothing to begin to address this gap," stated the Regional Chief.
    Regional Chief Toulouse pointed to the failure of this federal government
to honour the Kelowna Accord, which called for targeted investments for First
Nations in Health, Education, Housing and Infrastructure. The reason offered
by Minister Prentice for rejecting the Kelowna commitments was that there were
not enough details in the Accord. However, the Conservatives did indicate that
they agreed with the targets and objectives of the Kelowna Accord but have
made no attempt, despite First Nations efforts, to work with First Nations on
developing an alternative plan that deals with First Nations poverty in a
comprehensive manner. "It is quite obvious that there is no commitment on the
part of this government to genuinely address what is Canada's biggest
challenge, and shame - which is First Nations poverty," said Regional Chief
    The Regional Chief indicated that the gap between First Nations and the
rest of Canada is in fact widening, and will continue to widen given
yesterday's federal budget. He further indicated that the federal government
has developed a pattern of making grand announcements meant to appear as
"taking action" on issues when in actuality they are empty announcements with
minimal to no resources attached to implement required changes.
    The Regional Chief pointed out the irony that it was Minister Jim
Prentice, who in October 2005, stood in the House of Commons as then
Aboriginal Affairs Critic for the official opposition and demanded the
resignation of then INAC Minister Andy Scott, for the lack of action in
addressing the situation in Kashechewan. Mr. Prentice stated, "This minister
cannot be trusted with the lives of those who cannot defend themselves, so on
behalf of Aboriginal Canadians, who are the poorest of the poor, I ask this
minister to resign," quoted Regional Chief Toulouse. He further stated, "I
find it shameful that the federal government announced spending of
approximately $20 billion in yesterday's budget and First Nations were
virtually ignored. As Mr. Prentice himself said we are the poorest of the poor
and now that he is Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and could have more
influence with regard to investment for First Nations, he does nothing to
address the root causes of First Nations poverty."
    The federal budget re-confirmed the investment of $300 million to develop
market housing on reserves, but have not responded to the overwhelming need
for social housing on reserves. The budget indicates that the government "will
provide a tough regulatory regime and standards for drinking water on First
Nations reserves" but no commitment of new resources for First Nations to
develop plans and ensure the capacity exists at the local level to implement
the new regulations. The budget made further investment in Aboriginal Skills
and Employment, and minor enhancement dollars for the Aboriginal Justice
    Regional Chief Toulouse stated that a commitment was made in the Federal
budget to "work with First Nations leadership to move forward an action plan
to accelerate the resolution of specific claims and will explore alternatives
such as providing for an independent adjudication of claims that cannot be
settled by negotiations." Regional Chief Toulouse indicated that First Nations
have for many years pushed for action on settling specific claims to address
the backlog of almost 1,000 claims. "This commitment is nothing new, we have
heard it time and again. We need to see action with the necessary resources to
engage First Nations and settle the hundreds of claims that exist." He further
stated that an independent claims body must be implemented and not simply
explored. "It is completely illogical and unfair for the federal government to
be judge and jury with regard to specific claims. How can one fairly determine
liability and levy a settlement against oneself?"
    The condition of First Nations in this country is the blackest mark on
Canada's reputation within the international community yet the federal
government continues to ignore it. "If Canada wants to be viewed as "a model
society - a shining beacon in what can be a dark world", as Minister Flaherty
stated yesterday, this government must work with the First Nations to develop
a comprehensive plan that addresses the poverty conditions while
simultaneously providing First Nations with the tools and opportunities to
participate fully in the economy of this country," said the Regional Chief.

For further information:

For further information: Pam Hunter, Policy Advisor, Chiefs of Ontario,
(416) 597-1266 Office, (613) 203-3233 Mobile

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