(Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks during chiefs assembly in December 2015. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured to the left of Bellegarde. APTN/File)
APTN National News
An effusive Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the Liberal government’s first budget unveiled Tuesday offered “historic” investments for First Nation people and communities.
The Liberal budget committed $8.4 billion in new spending on infrastructure, education and housing over the next five years. A total of $3.3 billion, however, is only scheduled to flow in the last two years including $1.78 billion that is earmarked
The federal budget contained commitments to spend $4.2 billion on education, children and training, $1.2 billion on social infrastructure for First Nation, Inuit and Northern communities, and $2.42 billion on green infrastructure, all targeted to Indigenous peoples, over the next five years.
For Bellegarde, however, the total investments made Tuesday’s budget unveiling a “historic day” and he offered praise to the Liberal government for the dollars directed at First Nation communities and Indigenous organizations like the AFN.
“That is a significant investment that is something that was say is a historic day for this budget,” said Bellegarde, in an interview with APTN National News anchor Cheryl McKenzie. “What I see reflected in this year’s budget is that it goes against maintaining the status quo and that, to me, is a very significant first step going forward.”
Bellegarde said he was pleased to see the Liberal government put $96 million in the budget over the next five years for Aboriginal Representative Organizations, like the AFN. He said the money was vital to allowing First Nation leaders to truly work on par with the federal government to develop laws and policy.
“In the last 10 years all Aboriginal organizations were gutted, were cut back,” said Bellegarde. “In order to be effective partners we have to have the capacity to make sure we have the proper policy analysis, proper legal analysis on things going forward so we can develop jointly the proper legislation and policy frameworks going forward.”
Bellegarde also he was heartened by the Liberal budget’s commitment to begin talks on developing a new fiscal framework with First Nations.
“The Minister of Finance has committed to working with First Nation people to work toward long-term sustainable, predictable funding, working on a new Crown-Canada First Nation relationship when it comes to finances, so we are going to hold them to that.”
Bellegarde was also asked about initial criticism of the budget from Cindy Blackstock, the First Nation child advocate behind a successful human rights complaint against Ottawa over its underfunding of child welfare services.
Blackstock told APTN the budget had failed First Nation children and family because it provided miniscule funding for the First Nation child welfare system despite facing a ruling on the issue from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
Bellegarde said he needed to do an “analysis” of that budgeted dollar figure before he could make a determination on the issue.
“We are not always going to get everything we want but it is a really positive start to closing that gap between the quality of life between First Nation people and non-First Nation people in Canada,” he said.