OTTAWA — A quarter of the Liberals’ new budget spending will go to help bridge the socio-economic gap between Indigenous Peoples and mainstream society, but some say it will take more.
Tuesday’s budget outlined some $4.5 billion for programs affecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.
"I think there may be more money needed, because the depth of the inequality and the history of deprivation of basic services for kids is so significant," said Cindy Blackstock, a renowned child advocate who heads the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
Ottawa has allotted $1.2 billion over three years for Jordan’s Principle programs to ensure First Nations children can access all public services, including health care, dental needs and education programs, when they need them. The government of first contact pays for the service and resolves jurisdictional/payment disputes later.
That concept is named after Jordan River Anderson, who died in 2005 at age five of complex medical issues. He languished in a Winnipeg hospital for two years instead of being sent home to Norway House Cree Nation because Ottawa and the province couldn’t decide who should pay for his home care.
For Blackstock, the budget is "a way of making Jordan’s legacy a legacy for many kids; I’m really happy about that." But she wonders if the funding will be enough, after leading a decade-long tribunal case that revealed massive shortfalls in how Ottawa has funded basic services for children on reserves.
Parliament enacted Jordan’s Principle in 2007, after a push by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, while the Liberals made it a formal policy in July 2016.
Manitoba reserves now tap into that funding more than any other province.
The Liberals did not specify Tuesday any increase in spending for child welfare. That’s despite introducing a landmark bill that would recognize Indigenous jurisdiction by having their own organizations ensure children keep their family and cultural ties.
"When does this become real?" Blackstock said. "Without funding, the jurisdiction cannot be exercised, and that’s going to be another disappointment for many First Nations children and families."
While the Liberals did not put up more cash for urban Indigenous programming, they earmarked $60 million over the coming five years for buildings where such activities take place.
Tuesday’s budget also promised $250 million over the coming five years to help Indigenous communities prevent and deal with natural disasters. The Liberals also promised to launch an Indigenous fire marshal’s office.