Thursday, 29 March 2012

Canada's 2012/2013 Federal Budget

             I had been following the twitter posts, Facebook updates, and media reports as earnestly as possible today because of the little tidbits of information I was able to receive from them. This made me very keen to hurry up and finish my heavy day of school work/volunteer activities in order to more properly analyse the Conservative Government’s first majority budget. There were, I will admit, some things I agreed with and some that make me shake my head. Items I agreed with were things such as abolishing the penny and upping the retirement age from 65 to 67. I am mixed on the public service area and thus see some benefits to what they are suggesting and some that are not beneficial.
With that, I turn to my area of expertise and an area I have already had a couple of texts, Facebook messages, and in-person questions sent to/asked of me. As many of us remember, there was a ‘historic’ Crown/First Nations Gathering recently that the Harper Conservatives touted would be a major step forward.  National Chief Shawn Atleo pressed him on items of concern, such as education. The only thing that has turned out to be historic about that day, and the discussion, is that Harper stayed the full day. What was not historic was that Harper did something else – he didn’t listen to those who live in the situations we hear about in the media, those who grow up in them and those who have family in them.

            I say this because after reviewing the important parts of the budget in relation to Indigenous people, there is not much to be proud of. For instance, the post-secondary funding is staying capped at 2%. At a time when provinces and universities are also having to make cuts and roll back funding, as well as increase fees, I wonder where the commitment is to higher education.  Perhaps it is in the $100 million, over three years, to be given for literacy programs as well as other support and services for Aboriginal schools and students. Or, perhaps it is in the $175 million, over three years to help build and renovate schools on reserves? Unfortunately, this is not the case and in fact the budget does little to move us and our communities further towards getting up to par with our Canadian brothers and sisters.

            The government is making cuts to the tune of almost $253 million to Aboriginal Affairs, over 3 years, which instead of transferring those monies into things like infrastructure, health, and education in the communities, it is putting it back towards the deficit that, in my personal view the current government contributed to. But wait, $253 million is lower than $275million you say? I know it is shocking and thus I am sure you are wondering why I say it is not helpful? Since we are already heavily underfunded and treated like children who don’t know how to look over our own piggy bank, I still say if that today was $428 million, and with it all going to things that needed to be done rather than paying for a bureaucrat to look over us, it would have a better end result. However, this is not happening, so I will also point out that $175 million for renovating schools is actually less then what was originally agreed to. Originally, $165 million was promised over 2 years, during the budget of 2011/2012, but something has led the government to a change of heart. In reality, we have lost funding. Not to mention, that some communities, such as those in Ontario, did not partake in the discussions and education panel to find out about schooling, school infrastructure, and other issues related to this. So the commitment may be of little importance to the wide range of issues that exists.

            But besides that, this does not address key issues of housing, food security, infrastructure, water issues, sexual abuse, and so on. Furthermore, there is no discussion or funding for M├ętis people or Inuit people. However, I will be honest I know little of how federal policy affects Inuit due to their unique relationship with Canada. But don’t worry Canada – Harper has said they will look at a policy to tighten education and standards for on reserve schools. This includes accountability and other scenarios. However, the Harper government didn’t fully explain how this will be achieved when the schools on reserve will still be underfunded, teachers and other support staff will still make less money and thus have to deal with losing teachers to higher paying positions in the towns and cities of Canada. So I ask... where is the support? Where is the progress? Where is the ‘listening and working with us’ rather than over us? It is kind of funny when this comes out and we see cuts in funding, impositions of what will need to be done and how they will enforce a mandatory system on them for education. All without properly consulting the Indigenous nations.

            All of this then makes me think of the Kelowna Accord and the promises that were hashed out in it – promises that were made in agreement with Chiefs, Premiers, Territorial leaders, and the Government of Canada.  Kelowna was an agreement that looked to deal with the issues of infrastructure, health, education, and other items. An agreement that could have been easily supported with some of the funds garnered from the 2% of the GST the Harper government cut in 2006. Yet a Conservative’s favorite line, and to an extent also some NDPers I know, is that the deal would never have been done and that the deal was unrealistic and ‘written on the back of a napkin.’

            To them, all I have to say is the outline in the 2012/2013 budget not only looks like it has been, itself, written on a napkin but one that has been used, thrown in the garbage and then reused.  Most of the treaties that exist in Canada call for negotiations, recognition, and respect. I see none of that in here. Thus, I see no change in the near future while this government continues to ignore us. I will remind people that the last time this was done federally there was an altercation that many refer to as ‘Burnt Church.’ Prior to that there was the infamous ‘Oka standoff’ and a quote by then AFN Chief George Erasmus on what lay ahead for Canadian/Indigenous relations if things did not change:

“Canada, if you do not deal with this generation of leaders and seek
peaceful solutions, then we cannot promise that you are going to like
 the kind of violent political action that we can just about guarantee
 the next generation is going to bring to you.” (1988)

Well Prime Minister Harper, I will just give you a heads up. The generation Mr. Erasmus spoke of is the one who is taking over the political reigns in our territories and becoming more politically militant today. And at a time when you introduce budgets like this, ignore us, and force policies such as the Matrimonial Real Property law, and the possible ‘private land bill’ on us... you definitely seem eager for the powder keg to blow. It is times like this that makes me wonder what if Kelowna had not been destroyed and what if Paul Martin returned to federal politics. Unfortunately on both, and the hopes of progress forward with the current CPC government, I can only dream.