-Budget blues for First Nations

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The federal budget unveiled by Conservative Finance Minister Joe Oliver April 21 – months late – was notable for the scant news it had for Canada’s First Nations communities. In fact, Oliver didn’t mention the word “Aboriginal” or “First Nation” in his budget speech delivered in the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, more than 80% of “new spending” is in the form of tax breaks and other income measures that largely benefit wealthy Canadians.

National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations said it is “a status-quo budget, and the status quo is not acceptable.”

Bellegarde denounced the lack of new investments in housing to deal with an estimated shortfall of 130,000 units. He also questioned why significant funds were not set aside for First Nations education – a federal responsibility – that continues to lag behind per capita funding for the general population.

“We don’t see any investments even in access to potable water,” added Bellegarde. “There are still 93 communities with boil-water advisories.”

On First Nation education, the Harper government simply recycled a small portion of the $1.9 billion announced in last year’s budget as part of the package that was to accompany proposed legislation governing on-reserve education. When the First Nation chiefs turned against the proposed First Nation Control of First Nation Education Act, the Harper government said it would put the money on ice until it got the legislative changes it wanted.

The money breaks down to an additional $40 million a year for First Nation education across the country.

The budget also re-announced the $500 million over six years for on-reserve schools announced last November as part of the federal government’s $5.8 billion infrastructure package.

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