Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Budget 2016: The Same Path or A 'New Footing'?

Yesterday the current government of Canada released its Budget plans for 2016. Their budget, as many of us knew, looked to return Canada and the government’s relationship to people, organizations, arts and culture, education, to name but a few – back towards a progressive path. Additionally, there were plans expressed to begin a process of reconciliation and nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous nations.

There were many great things in the budget, from my point of view as an openly gay male; a progressive minded person; an Indigenous male, as well as someone who is seeking their PhD.

Items such as:
  • $379 million over eight years for Canadian Space Agency to continue on International Space Station through 2024

  • Canada Student Loan repayment can be withheld until earning a $25,000 or higher salary

  • More managers and re-opening of nine closed service centres relating to Veterans

  • $12 million over 5 years to revive Court Challenges Program

  • CBC funding boost of $115m a year on top of the $1 Billion annual subsidy

  • Investing over $1 Billion in the development of clean technology

  • $120 Billion over the next 10 years in infrastructure from coast to coast to coast

(These are just some of the items).

In relation to Indigenous nations and communities, specifically:

Funds in the total of $8.4 Billion from now and through 2019 have  been earmarked.

Items such as:
  • $1.8 Billion over five years for water and waste water infrastructure on Reserve  (This is broken down, by APTN to reflect that for 2016 it is $296 Million, 2017 is $322 Million, and 2018 is $618 Million – but they don’t list the amount for 2019 or 2020 – which would reflect the remaining balance of $564 Million between those two years)

  • Inuit and Northern Housing will reflect $96.7 million ($8 million in Yukon, $12 million in NWT, and 76.7 million in Nunavut)

  • $554.3 million for First Nations housing within our communities – over the next two years

  • $2.6 billion for Primary and Secondary education on reserve over the next 5 years

  • $969.4 million over five years in First Nations education infrastructure in our communities

  • $15 million over the next two years to train for hobs that support our communities in the view of construction, water treatment, local administration etc 

  • $40 million for National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls over the next two years

  • $409 million over five years for waste management and recycling in First Nation communities

  • $270 million over 5 years for health facilities like nursing stations and residences in our communities

  • $255 million over two years for First Nations Infrastructure Fund – for items such as broadband, bridges, etc 
  • $129.4 million in early learning and child care over the next two years in our communities

  • $25 million for Metis Nation economic development strategy

  • $5 million pert year for support for Indigenous languages

All of these are great movements forward. Does it do everything that the government said it would do over the next four years? No – this is one budget following one Speech from the Throne – let us remember there are 3 more of each to come before the next Canadian federal election.

Reaction to the Budget:

The reaction from some on the budget has been great. Many have highlighted that this has put forth more then the Kelowna Accord did. Others have highlighted how much this funding was needed to begin returning to the true value of the monetary component of the treaty relationship and so on. Others have said it has blown the 2% cap on funding (imposed by Chretien) out of the water on infrastructure and education for Indigenous peoples.

I personally have viewed the numbers and the promises as being the best budget for Indigenous peoples since confederation! Others have highlighted this budget has been the best budget for Canadians in over 30 years.

Others, on the other hand, have gone after them for not doing everything they said they would in their four-year mandate in their first budget.  The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) claims that the government has failed Indigenous students for not removing the 2% cap on Education (yet forgets that 2% cap reflects ALL funding for Indigenous youth and students from kindergarten and up into post-secondary – with the numbers actually showing the 2% cap has been ignored in this budget). Others have highlighted most of the funding doesn’t kick in until 2019 and after the 2019 election (which I haven’t personally found in the equations I have looked at – lets remember the 2019 funding will actually be put into place before the 2019 election).

The only criticism that I partially agree with, in this sense, is Cindy Blackstock’s points on ‘failing’ on-reserve children. Mind you. More could have been done and reflected the court ruling that went in favour of Blackstock’s court challenge against the Canadian government and how it has been biased against Indigenous youth. That said, there is some promising items that begin the steps to ending the financial discrepancy for First Nations children within their communities. She is correct – this is not the entire amount that is needed to rectify the problem right now – but I do believe it is a start – and so is the funding for other youth throughout Canada who have been left behind over the 9 years of Harper rule.

But again – this is one budget of 4 to come over the next 4 years and reflects one Speech from the Throne out of four to come over the next 4 years. Let us also not forget that Indigenous peoples were not the only people targeted during the Harper years – Academics, Scientists, researchers, education systems, cities, and so on, also faced the fiscal guillotine of the Harper government.

That said – I agree their circumstances are very different then ours as Indigenous peoples – they are not facing Settler-Colonialism and colonial mentality like we are.

But – many seem not to realize how the Canadian government operates – especially in relation to budgets and Speeches from the Throne.

A ‘101’ on Budget and Speech From The Throne Announcements:

The western/Westminster structure of government that Canada operates within has a certain way of doing this – especially when announcing its plans and its fiscal plans. For instance:

The Government of Canada does a Speech From The Throne (SFTT) - which highlights the direction that the government plans to take. It is in this SFTT that we see the broad plans that a government plans to push forth.

This is traditionally followed by the release of the Budget. It is in the budget we see the monetary value that coincides with a Government's plans (aka: the plans outlined in the SFTT).
The next step after both the SFTT and the Budget is to see how the government actually implements each and every thing it says it will do and the financial components that are now promised alongside of it.

Additionally - this is only one SFTT and one Budget - these are done each year. Thus additional promises and plans can and may be put forth in Budget 2017, Budget 2018, and Budget 2019. alongside the SFTT of each year.

Thus, there is a promise: a verbal commitment, a fiscal component commitment and then the follow up – which reflects putting that verbal and fiscal commitment to action.

The End Result:

The budget of 2016 cannot to everything that a party promises – it is the first budget of 4 over the four year mandate. Critics and media have highlighted this budget has followed its election promises. We have Budget 2017 to further see if the other promises made will also finally be followed.

But we need to remember this very fact – it is one budget out of four over the next four years. There is far more to come and with it potential funding and deficit reduction because of items such as green energy, legalization and taxation of marijuana, and so on.

We cannot assume that this government can fulfill every promise – it took 9 years to degrade Canada and over 400 years to degrade the Indigenous/Settler relationship.

Let us also remember the gutting that has been done to the social safety net, research and data, infrastructure and so on - not to mention the degradation of funding that is supposed to be gauranteed to us as Indigenous peoples within Indigenous nations - during the Harper years and so on.

In relation to us as Indigenous peoples and our nationhoods - some of these things promised to us and agreed to by the Trudeau Jr. government will require more funding and so on. They will also require proper consultation AND nation-to-nation relationships to move forward. Doing otherwise would be the SAME PATH as previous governments, excluding Martin, that simply decided how to go about dealing with all the long-term colonial problems)


As I have said - As a Niish, progressive, Gay, Phd Student who also is thinking of a better future for my nephews, niece, and other young Indigenous peoples & Canadians (Not as someone who leans liberal or supports the LPC; not as someone who is an ‘APCer’) - I am appreciative and thankful for what has been outlined by the new Canadian federal government in the SFTT and Budget 2016.

We cant fix 10 years of CPC government in one day ... AND we definitely cannot decolonize/fix the colonial mentality of the last 400 years in one day either.

Yesterday symbolized a step forward - not a conclusion/an end - but a step forward. And to Justin Trudeau, Bill Morneau, Carolyn Bennett and the other members of the Liberal Government: Chi-Miigwetch for having Canada finally take that step forward.