Provincial welfare programs are tightly designed to serve those who need it most -- the disabled and the single parents of young children. But that is not the way income assistance has worked on Canada's reserves, generally, where persistent unemployment rates as high as 80 per cent have produced generational welfare dependence. The Harper government's budget Thursday seeks to change that.
The "workfare" program for young reserve residents briefly described by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty may not be universally embraced by all bands -- it is voluntary -- but the logic to signing on is obvious: a brighter future for First Nations people. Manitoba's native leadership should jump at the potential dividends to their communities.
The jobs fund is budgeting $109 million over five years to tailor training for young First Nations people living on reserve. The program targets reserves, typically remote, near mining and other resource-based developments that often see economic spinoff agreements signed with bands that have traditional claim to the land. But it should be available to bands near urban job markets, too.
Writing employable people welfare cheques makes no sense, which is why provincial programs provide only short-term assistance for those who can work. On many reserves, however, the few jobs available are tied to public services or the band government. But some of those reserves have mining, logging or hydroelectric development in their backyards.
Increased funding for schools on reserves is critical to improving the deplorable high school graduation rates among First Nations youth. But job training is equally critical, particularly in the north.
The job-training plan also budgets $132 million for employment services, to be offered by band governments that agree to the mandatory job training for young recipients. That might be needed to convince some to sign on, but the obvious benefit of tailored job training for young people should have chiefs and councils scrambling to see how the program can work for their community.