Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/4/2020 (557 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
One month ago, the Pallister government introduced Bill 34: the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act.
One of more than 20 the Manitoba Tories stacked up prior to delivering the 2020 budget, the bill is mostly standard procedure. Part 6, for example, eliminates tax refunds on goods removed from Canada.
Buried under the subsequent avalanche of novel coronavirus news and concern, it sat, until its first reading during an emergency legislative session Wednesday.
Now, Manitobans are learning the potential of its full impact.
Deep in its pages is Part 9 — titled "Other Amendments" — which proposes to deal with "the federal special allowances for children that Child and Family Services agencies received or were eligible to receive for children in care between January 1, 2005, and March 31, 2019."
This section proposes a radical change that would permanently keep money earmarked for children in care and remove their ability to disagree.
"It’s unprecedented," says Cindy Blackstock, a national Indigenous child advocate and executive of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada. "No other province is doing anything like it."
Since 1993, the federal government has delivered the Children’s Special Allowances via the Canada Revenue Agency (similar to the Canada Child Benefit) that directly pays institutions who care for children. In most cases, these funds are used by organizations to pay for the specific needs of children in care (sport fees or health needs) or issued directly to foster parents to help them care for the child.
In 2005 — under premier Gary Doer’s NDP government — Manitoba mandated all child-welfare agencies remit the allowances back to the province to assist it in the administration of child welfare.
Essentially, for 15 years, Manitoba has used this money, intended to support individual children, to subsidize a massive, $543-million bureaucracy (according to 2017-18 expenditures).
The Conservatives, while in opposition, decried the practice. When they took office in 2016, they continued it.
In 2019, Premier Brian Pallister cut more than $100 million from child welfare and introduced a "single envelope" model, which removed "per-child" funding for agencies and implemented "block funding" under four CFS authorities.
Leaders in the child-welfare system say there is now more bureaucracy, poorer delivery of service, more children at risk, and incentives to keep children in care longer rather than help find ways out of it.
Meanwhile, Indigenous children have paid the biggest price. There are more than 11,000 children in care in the province, and 90 per cent are Indigenous.
On Jan. 1, new federal legislation came into force intending to give Indigenous groups control over child welfare. There are issues with the legislation: "groups" is undefined and there is no funding in the model; this means child welfare is left once again to the provinces.
"Manitoba is taking money intended to help children build their lives and futures," Blackstock says, "and it’s not helping."
Blackstock led a successful, decade-long Canadian Human Rights Tribunal challenge, proving the federal government "willfully and recklessly" discriminated against Indigenous children on reserves. Ottawa must rightfully pay these children and their families compensation, while instituting changes to ensure equality and service.
In 2018, two class-action lawsuits emerged, taking the Manitoba government to court for clawing back the Children’s Special Allowances since 2005.
There needs to be public debate on this subject — and this is what the courts are for. But we may never hear this debate.
Buried deeper within Bill 34 is not only a legitimation of Manitoba taking the Children’s Special Allowances, but a clause disallowing any lawsuits challenging its stance.
That’s right: if passed (likely in the fall), Bill 34 would disallow any resistance to Manitoba taking federal money for children.
"Governments must be held accountable in their treatment of children," Blackstock says. "Any government who places themselves above the law leaves children and family without protection."
Failing to protect children is exactly how Manitoba has gotten into this unbearable situation.
Through a well-hidden clause in a budget bill introduced during a pandemic, it may continue this legacy.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.