Impact of the 2012 Budget on Aboriginal Peoples

by NationTalk on April 17, 20121444 Views

Federal budget 2012
April 17, 2012

As a policy instrument, the 2012 Federal Budget is true to the Conservative government’s course of assimilating the Aboriginal population by making life in First Nations communities unbearable.

One would have thought that the widespread attention drawn to the James Bay community of Attawapiskat would have had an impact – but there was no new money for housing in this budget. And despite unanimous support in the House of Commons for “Shannen’s Dream” – a bill that commits the federal government to raising the standard of First Nations’ K-12 schools to the same level as their provincial counterparts – the $100 million in the first year falls far short of the $1.5 billion required.In 1998 Treasury Board placed a 2% cap on First Nations budgets which, all other things being equal, would have kept them only slightly behind the rate of inflation. Problem is, all things are not equal. Aboriginal Peoples continue to be the fastest growing demographic in Canada.

Following the success of Sharon McIvor in (nearly) ending gender discrimination in the Indian Act, 45,000 Aboriginal Peoples will be receiving their rightful status and another 40,000 will be added as recognition is finally being given to the Qalipu Mi’Kmaq First Nation Band in Newfoundland and Labrador. The strain on First Nations budgets – that were severely underfunded to begin with – will continue to grow at a staggering rate.

Deep cuts

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AAND) itself will be cut by $165 million. It remains unclear which programs will be lost or substantially decreased as a result of this 2.7% reduction but we do know that the First Nations Statistical Institute is the first casualty.

The Conservative government is about to pass Bill S-8, The Safe Drinking Water Act. It will shift the responsibility for water systems from AAND directly to First Nations. The $200 million over two years provided for water infrastructure in this budget is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a drop in the bucket compared to the $6.5 billion required as estimated by the Assembly of First Nations. By design, this will pave the way for the privatization of water on reserves.

The budget document has more direct plans for privatization:

~ Some First Nations have expressed an interest in exploring the possibility of legislation that would allow private property ownership within current reserve boundaries . . . Economic Action Plan 2012 announces the government’s intent to explore with interested First Nation the option of moving forward with legislation that will allow for this. ~

With changes to matrimonial real property legislation that will see non-Aboriginals gain interests in reserve lands, the federal government’s assimilation strategy has been laid bare in a way not seen since Chrétien’s 1969 White Paper.

Some additional funds were allocated in this budget for the investigation of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls. There was no money, however, for the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s Sisters in Spirit program, nor for any community organizations to address the issue in a culturally specific way. The budget was also silent on support for families.

Ignoring the North

Inuit residents in the northern territories were largely overlooked in this budget. There is no new money for mental wellness or housing. There are no provisions for education at a time when 75 per cent of Inuit students in Nunavut do not finish high school. That means many will not have the basic education to get decent-paying jobs. The Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, which has only existed since 2009, will be cut by $5 million over the next three years as well.

The budget is completely silent on issues concerning Métis peoples, despite the fact that the Métis population is more than half of that of First Nations in Canada.

Punishing activism

Lastly, the budget contains a two-pronged assault against First Nations who are struggling to protect their territories from the environmental destruction brought on by resource extraction. Finance Minister Flaherty announced that new legislation would soon be proposed that would consolidate the federal departments involved in regulatory reviews of resource projects and cap them with timelines.

A panel review will now be capped at two years, a National Energy Board review must take 18 months and a standard environmental assessment will take one year. A recent announcement that there would be forthcoming changes to the Fisheries Act that will remove fish habitat from environmental review clearly outlines the government’s plan to expedite the Northern Gateway Pipeline project that will run through several First Nation territories in northern British Columbia.

In a similar vein, the budget proposes new enforcement powers that would allow the Canada Revenue Agency to suspend a charity’s tax receipt privileges for one year if it “exceeds the limitations on political activities.” The impact of this will be devastating to environmental organizations that are opposed to tar sands development projects, groups that the Harper government has referred to as “economic terrorists.”

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