Thursday’s federal budget is either great for Aboriginal people, has some good points but needs work or just plain terrible depending on who you talk to.
Not surprisingly, the Conservatives are heralding money put into jobs and training for young First Nations people as a major move to help them engage in Canada’s growing economy.
Aboriginal groups say the budget does have a few positive points – such as the $241 million increase to the on-reserve income assistance plan – but they are calling the budget an overall failure in its ability to address various pressing needs.
And, finally, just as unsurprising as is the Conservatives’ praise, the Liberals are panning the budget as an absolute disaster for Indigenous people.
Northern Saskatchewan Conservative MP Rob Clarke says the 2013 federal budget provides opportunities for young First Nations people to participate in the province’s booming economy.
One of the centerpiece planks of the Harper government budget is a five-year $109 million plan to provide personalized skills development for young First Nations people who are on social assistance.
Clarke says there are currently lots of jobs in northern Saskatchewan’s mining industry and other service sectors and this will be one way to help young First Nations people find jobs there as part of Canada’s economic action plan.
“What will happen is the provinces and territories and employers will be able to help ensure Canadians are able to access this funding for high level demand fuelled jobs that are in the mining industry in northern Saskatchewan or in the service sector across Saskatchewan,” he says.
The money is being distributed as part of the on-reserve Income Assistance Plan and in order to access it young people will be required to take part in job training programs.
The Conservative government also says funding to help Indigenous people with post-secondary advancement is one of the key parts of the 2013 budget.
The $10 million over two years for scholarships and bursaries is being flowed through something called the Indspire fund.
Clarke says the money will help First Nations and Inuit young people succeed at the university and college levels.
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde gives the federal budget credit for attempting to address some of the key concerns facing Canada’s First Nations communities.
However, he says overall the budget is a failure for First Nations people.
Bellegarde says not nearly enough money or programs have been designated to make a real difference.
“I believe the federal budget does not go far enough in dealing with the poverty that flags First Nations people in this country,” he says. “People across Canada have to learn and know and see the third world conditions that flags First Nations communities.”
The FSIN chief also says he supports a program aimed at getting young people off welfare and into the workforce but adds the program should also include a component to deal with some of the mental health issues facing young Aboriginals.
Métis Nation of Saskatchewan President Robert Doucette says it is downright disappointing that Métis people are not even mentioned in the budget.
“On a glance, there seems to be quite a bit offered for First Nations and I am not really sure what they are offering overall for Métis,” he says. “I cannot even see the word mentioned in the budget so that is a concern for me.”
The Liberals are panning the budget with Aboriginal Affairs critic Carolyn Bennett leading the charge.
The Toronto MP says the budget contains no new money for on-reserve education and nothing to address the pressing issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
She also says the Harper government may be heralding a $241 million improvement to the on-reserve income assistance plan as a way for young First Nations people to find jobs but it is little more than a workfare program.
“This workfare on reserves that makes it in order to get social assistance you have to be signed up for skills but we know people aren’t successful at that unless they finish high school or have good literacy and numeracy skills,” she says.
Bennett adds the $154 million in additional funding to address on-reserve infrastructure needs will do little to fix the lack of decent running water, sewer and housing that exists in many First Nations communities.
The infrastructure money for First Nations in the budget is largely targeted toward power grids, broadband access, garbage disposal and roads and bridges.
Regina Liberal MP Ralph Goodale adds there are few references to Aboriginal people in the entire budget and no real announcements of any consequence.
He says the government has also refused to lift the two per cent cap on education transfers to First Nations.
Goodale also notes funding to many First Nations agencies runs out at the end of this month due to previous cuts.
“The federal government does not like to deal with national or regional organizations,” he says. “They prefer to divide and conquer by picking people off one at a time. They’ve done a lot of things over the years, whether it be church organizations, foreign aid organizations, environmental organizations or Aboriginal organizations to undermine their credibility.”
Like Bennett, the Regina MP says he’s also not sure why the federal government seems reluctant to order an inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
He says the situation would be different if non-Aboriginal women were the ones disappearing.
Goodale adds it shouldn’t be a political issue and an independent judicial authority should be put in place to find the truth.