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Federal budget ‘does not deliver on First nation needs’

Thursday June 9, 2011

Calls are being made for equitable, stable and sustainable funding for First Nations after the new federal budget was announced June 6.

“Our people have been underfunded for many years now and we see the results in the poor conditions in too many of our communities and the poor health of too many of our people,” said National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “This budget does not deliver on these very real needs.”

Atleo said First Nations have set clear plans based on their rights and treaties to build their economies, strengthen their governments and create safe and secure communities for their people.

“We want to work with the government to ensure First Nations are included in plans to make this country stable, secure and prosperous,” Atleo said. “We can make real change in a short time but we have to act now.”

Delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in the House of Commons, the budget included references to a joint effort to arrive at “concrete and positive changes in First Nation education to bring greater success and opportunities for First Nation students,” but did not include any investment for First Nations education.

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus is concerned about the lack of new funds for First Nation education in the June 6 federal budget.

“What I find disturbing is there’s lots of talk about First Nations education,” Angus said. “Obviously they’re feeling the effects of the Shannen’s Dream campaign, but I don’t see any money set aside to actually deal with the shortfall in First Nation education.”

The Shannen’s Dream campaign was launched in November 2010 after Shannen Koostachin, a young First Nation activist from Attawapiskat who was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize, passed away in May 2010 in a car accident.

Her dream was that all First Nation children should be able to get an education in clean “comfy” schools just as non-Native children do.

Kenora MP Greg Rickford said the federal government has reached out to the AFN and other stakeholders to develop region-specific plans to ensure the diverse needs of remote isolated First Nations are met.

The budget did commit an additional $30 million over two years to the First Nation Policing Program, $22 million for fuel tanks in First Nations to comply with environmental safety standards and $8 million for deployment of clean energy technologies.

Rickford said the $22 million for fuel tanks was a top priority in his budget requests to the minister of finance because many First Nations in the Kenora riding are off grid and depend on diesel generating stations to power their community infrastructure.

Rickford said $8 million for clean energy technologies will be delivered over the next two years in isolated First Nation communities.

“That is going to be manifested in a variety of activities that focus on reducing their reliance on non-renewable fuels over time,” Rickford said. “In some of the communities there is a lot more work to do but obviously getting hooked up to (power) grid lines is a priority.”

Rickford said an additional $20 million is also being invested over the next two years into the First Nations Land Management program, which supports and develops First Nation land management capacity.

“We’re investing an additional $30 million over two years for the First Nations Policing Program,” Rickford said, noting he made a specific request to the minister of finance on First Nations policing. “We have been involved in building, or replacing, or rehabilitating a number of police stations in the Kenora riding. Sandy Lake comes to mind obviously, Webequie, but there are still more communities that need that support.”

Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus is also concerned about the phase out of quarterly allowances for political parties announced in the budget.

The Harper government is keeping its election pledge to wean Canada’s political parties off public funds by ending the $2-per-vote subsidy. The subsidy puts about $27 million per year into the federal parties coffers.

The June 6 budget proposes to phase out the subsidy until it disappears completely by 2015-16.

“The per-vote subsidy was set up so we could get some fairness in election politics so it wasn’t just controlled by big money,” Angus said. “This is a real attempt by the Conservatives to try and snuff out the Liberal party, what’s left of the Bloc (Québécois) and it can go after the NDP (New Democratic Party).”

But Rickford said the taxpayer has been supporting the political parties for too long.

“We’re phasing that (per-vote) subsidy out,” he said. “We don’t believe the taxpayers should be bearing the costs of a political party.

“We just felt we could make better use of the taxpayers dollars and the government of Canada’s monies for other more important priorities than supporting political parties.”

The subsidy will be reduced by 0.51 cents a year starting Apr. 1, 2012. When it ends, savings will add up to about $30 million a year.

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