Northern Saskatchewan MP Rob Clarke says the federal government is doing what it can to support aboriginal education.
He points to increases of $175 million towards First Nations schools and another $100 million towards First Nations literacy — both contained in this year’s budget.
Clarke says he knows cuts are coming to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.
But he says those are designed to eliminate red tape and wasteful spending and shouldn’t hurt First Nations residents:
“No, I don’t see it’s going to hurt First Nations and Metis people. What we’re doing, all the cuts we’re looking at, is basically back-room office, the bureaucratic streamlining. We’ve seen such a duplication of the processes, what we’re trying to do is make it leaner and more efficient.”
Meantime, Clarke acknowledges the government is keeping the two per cent cap on annual increases to First Nations education funding transfers in place.
Many Aboriginal leaders said they were hoping the government would scrap that measure in this year’s budget.
Clarke says the government is already dealing with a number of issues:
“Secondary schools and elementary schools and the challenges. For one, teacher equity pay between the provinces and the federal government. That’s being addressed right now as we speak. To look at the two per cent cap right now on education — I think it’d be very (im)prudent to rush into something like that until we had the latest figures in place and an action plan.”
Meantime, the Conservatives are under fire from the Opposition for not providing more economic help for Aboriginal communities.
NDP Aboriginal Affairs Critic Linda Duncan says the Tories talk about including First Nations in the economy, but don’t put enough money into supporting the very things that will get them there:
“It’s pretty hard to move toward doing any kind of economic development in your communities unless you have basic infrastructure — and that certainly includes safe drinking water, decent roads, communication, secure supply of electricity.”
She adds many First Nations tell her they’re tired of having to jump through hoops whenever they want to acquire land, as well.
Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Little Black Bear First Nation says he’s disappointed Ottawa isn’t doing more to close the socio-economic gap that exists between Aboriginal people and the rest of Canada.
Bellegarde says the budget is vague in details, which worries him moving forward:
“They’re not addressing the need and that’s the issue — and there’s also other things in there, the hidden agenda. Look out and watch and beware the privatization of reserve lands. That’s very scary. So there’s things there we have to be really wary about.”
Bellegarde says many chiefs were optimistic in the wake of the First Nations summit that the two per cent cap on annual funding increases to First Nations education would be coming down.
The budget also contains $11.9 million in extra funding to prevent First Nations family violence.
YMCA Canada spokesman Ann Decter says that’s great news, but it’s not enough.
She says violence against women costs about $4 billion a year, so $11.9 million won’t do much:
“We think that’s great and we welcome the new funding, but this is really only a drop in the bucket – which the Federal Government itself says costs over $4 billion to Canadians every year.”
She says there’s also nothing in the budget to address homelessness – or the need for more child care.