TORONTO, March 30, 2012 /CNW/ - The federal budget released on March 29th, 2012 does not signal to the First Nations in Ontario that Ottawa is prepared to make a shift in its relationship with the indigenous peoples who have already contributed much to Canada's prosperity, shared Regional Chief Angus Toulouse.
"On January 24th, the Chiefs in Ontario issued clear recommendations to Prime Minister Harper about how First Nations and the federal government could move forward together on priority matters -- by committing to Treaty implementation." said the Regional Chief, indicating that this budget falls short of that vision.
"In the Chiefs of Ontario submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), we echoed these recommendations because we know they will help end the inequity experienced by First Nations people. Incidentally, the Committee agreed that Canada was failing and it had to do more. But this budget merely confirms that the federal government is continuing to disregard their responsibilities in the Treaty relationship. We will continue to educate and empower ourselves, communicate with other Nations with similar goals to end destructive cycles and set ourselves up for success in ways that don't compromise who we are," stated Regional Chief Toulouse.
The budget indicated that the federal government will create a First Nations Education Act which will establish standards and structures for the provision of First Nations education. The budget also announced an investment of $275 million over three years for First Nations education. $175 million will be allocated for building schools and renovations to existing facilities, and $100 million will be targeted for early literacy programming and "other supports".
"We will have to take a close look at how the federal government arrived at the $275 million figure. The resources identified need to be based on data and not simply by choosing an arbitrary figure that suits the government bottom line. This can't be an exercise to simply quell criticism; these investments must actually address the gaps that exist. Our First Nations want to be able to provide help to our citizens when and where help is needed and it is within our jurisdiction to do so," said the Regional Chief.
The budget also outlined a commitment of $331 million over two years for First Nations Water and Infrastructure. This announcement simply extends the current levels of funding for water and infrastructure on reserves. The Regional Chief pointed out that the National Assessment on First Nations Water and Wastewater, a federal government-commissioned report published in July 2011, indicated that an investment of $309 million is required to bring the water and wastewater systems in Ontario First Nations up to current departmental protocols, and the report further indicated that to meet the demands on the system over ten years would require $1 billion. The urgent need to ensure adequate water and wastewater infrastructure and resources on First Nations is compounded by the fact that the federal government has introduced Bill S-8 which would give them the authority to develop water and wastewater regulations that would apply on reserves. First Nations argue that the federal government must first focus on the resource gaps that exist before imposing regulations that they will be unable to meet. In responding to the announcement of $331 million over two years for water and infrastructure the Regional Chief stated: "The funding announced for water and infrastructure simply continues current levels of funding, it does not make up ground on the gaps. According to the government's own national assessment the gaps are huge. First Nations in Ontario alone could eat up $300 million just to bring our systems up to the government's current standards."
The Regional Chief indicated that the federal budget lacks detail and contained several vague commitments to work with First Nations to address barriers to economic development, improve incentives in the Income Assistance Program, explore the development of legislation to allow for private property ownership on reserves, and to improve mental health and well-being of the Aboriginal population. Regional Chief Toulouse indicated that there would be much work to do in gaining clarity on the substance behind such vague statements.
"Overall this budget is disappointing. When we met with Prime Minister Harper on January 24th, we were clear that piecemeal funding and lack of respect for our Treaties --- an approach that has long defined and damaged our relationship --- is the wrong approach, it is ineffective and creates conflict. Only through the full implementation of our Treaties will the poverty conditions and inequality you see in our communities be comprehensively addressed. Our Treaties were all about sharing the land and the benefits derived from the lands. We will continue seeking the full implementation of our Treaties and will work diligently to ensure that the needs and aspirations of our people are fulfilled," said Regional Chief Toulouse.
The Chiefs in Ontario, comprising the 133 First Nations in Ontario, is a political forum and secretariat for collective decision-making, action and advocacy.
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Andre Morriseau Communications Officer
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