On Monday April 19, 2021 The Federal Government of Canada released the first new federal budget in over two years, titled “Budget 2021 – A Recovery Plan for Jobs, Growth, and Resilience.” At over 700 pages, Budget 2021 is the most expensive, detailed, and far-reaching federal budget in recent Canadian history. We've prepared this review to pull out some highlights relevant to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit leaders across the country. As we all know, this budget has not yet passed, but here's what the government is saying it plans to do.
What's in it for Indigenous Peoples?
Budget 2021 includes $101.04 billion in investment over the next three years, with a historic $18 billion allocated to closing the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples by supporting healthy, safe, and prosperous Indigenous communities, and advancing meaningful reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation.
Chapter 8: Four Priority Areas
Chapter Eight of Budget 2021 titled “Strong Indigenous Communities” is organized into four priority areas of federal investment:
- Healthy and vibrant communities
- Building infrastructure and economic growth
- Responding to the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls
- Walking the path to reconciliation and self-determination.
Each of these priority investment areas have specific goals and outcomes with a funding target associated with each priority.
Continued Support to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic
The federal government recently introduced legislation that, if passed, would provide a one-time payment of up to $1 billion to provinces and territories to support vaccination rollouts across the country, and could be used to engage Indigenous communities to advance vaccine rollout. Indigenous communities have worked hard to combat the virus but the pandemic is not over and Indigenous communities remain at risk.
Budget 2021 proposes to provide an additional $1.2 billion in 2021-22 to continue supporting the COVID-19 response in Indigenous communities as follows:
- $478.1 million on a cash basis to continue to support the ongoing public health response to COVID-19 in Indigenous communities, including support to hire nurses, help at-risk people to isolate, and distribute personal protective equipment.
- An additional $760.8 million for the Indigenous Community Support Fund to help First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation communities, and urban and off-reserve Indigenous organizations serving Indigenous peoples meet the unique needs of their populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will provide funding to prevent the spread of COVID-19, support elders and vulnerable community members, provide mental health assistance and emergency response services, address food insecurity, and support children.
Investing in Improved Health Outcomes
Since 2015, the Government of Canada has invested over $5.5 billion to improve health outcomes in Indigenous communities. These investments have increased access to timely and culturally appropriate medical care and mental health services for Indigenous people and supported distinctions-based priorities. This includes dedicated funding for First Nations children through the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, responding to high rates of tuberculosis in Inuit communities and supporting the Métis Nation in gathering health data and developing a health strategy to address the distinct and unique needs of the Métis Nation.
Budget 2021 proposes to invest $1.4 billion over five years, beginning in 2021-22, and $40.6 million ongoing, to maintain essential health care services for First Nations and Inuit, continue work to transform First Nations health systems, and respond to the health impacts of climate change:
- $774.6 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, to ensure continued high-quality healthcare through the Non-Insured Health Benefits Program, which supports First Nations and Inuit people with medically necessary services not otherwise covered, such as mental health services, medical travel, medications, and more.
- $354 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, to increase the number of nurses and other medical professionals in remote and isolated First Nations communities.
- $107.1 million over three years, beginning in 2021-22, to continue efforts to transform how health care services are designed and delivered by First Nations communities, building on the government’s commitment to improve access to high-quality and culturally relevant health care for Indigenous peoples.
- $125.2 million over four years, beginning in 2022-23, to continue to support First Nations communities’ reliable access to clean water and help ensure the safe delivery of health and social services on reserve.
- $22.7 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, to support First Nations and Inuit as they manage the health impacts of climate change, such as access to country food, impacts of extreme weather events, and mental health impacts of climate change on youth.
Investing in Education and Learning
Since 2015, investments the Government of Canada has made have improved learning experiences for approximately 107,000 students per year and helped build 186 education-related infrastructure projects benefiting 240 First Nations communities. Investing in children’s education is an important part of the government’s plan to build long-term economic resilience. In 2019, the federal government implemented a new, co-developed policy and funding approach to better support the needs of First Nations students on reserve.
To invest in the future of First Nations children and continue to support this new approach, Budget 2021 proposes to invest $1.2 billion over five years, and $181.8 million ongoing:
- $112 million in 2021-22 to extend COVID-19 support so children on reserve can continue to attend school safely, including PPE for students and staff, laptops to support online learning, and more teachers and other critical staff.
- $726 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, and $181.8 million ongoing, to enhance funding formulas in critical areas such as student transportation, ensure funding for First Nations schools remains predictable from year to year, and increase First Nations control over First Nations education by concluding more Regional Education Agreements.
- $350 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, to expand access to adult education by supporting First Nations people on reserve who wish to return to high school in their communities and complete their high school education.
Investing in Infrastructure and Economic Growth
Investments in clean water, housing, and other community infrastructure are intended to accelerate the federal government’s 10-year commitment to close the infrastructure gaps in Indigenous communities, which could include all-weather roads, northern airstrips, broadband, health care and educational facilities.
Budget 2021 proposes distinctions-based investments of $6.0 billion over five years, starting in 2021-22, with $388.9 million ongoing, to support infrastructure in Indigenous communities:
- $4.3 billion over four years, starting in 2021-22, for the Indigenous Community Infrastructure Fund, a distinctions-based fund to support immediate demands, as prioritized by Indigenous partners, with shovel-ready infrastructure projects in First Nations, including with modern-treaty and self-governing First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation communities.
- $1.7 billion over five years, starting in 2021-22, with $388.9 million ongoing, to cover the operations and maintenance costs of community infrastructure in First Nations communities on reserve.
Investing in Community Safety & Better Policing
Indigenous communities, like all communities in Canada, should be places where people and families feel safe and secure. A well-funded, culturally sensitive, and respectful police service is essential for community safety and well-being.
Budget 2021 proposes to provide $861 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, and $145 million ongoing, to support culturally responsive policing and community safety services in Indigenous communities:
- $43.7 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, to co-develop a legislative framework for First Nations policing that recognizes First Nations policing as an essential service.
- $540.3 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, and $126.8 million ongoing, to support Indigenous communities currently served under the First Nations Policing Program and expand the program to new Indigenous communities.
- $108.6 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, to repair, renovate, and replace policing facilities in First Nation and Inuit communities.
- $64.6 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, and $18.1 million ongoing, to enhance Indigenous-led crime prevention strategies and community safety services.
- $103.8 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, for a new Pathways to Safe Indigenous Communities Initiative to support Indigenous communities to develop more holistic community-based safety and wellness models.
The proposed Budget 2021 investments build on investments made as part of the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, which announced $781.5 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22 and $106.3 million ongoing. This included:
- $724.1 million to launch a comprehensive Violence Prevention Strategy to expand access to culturally relevant supports for Indigenous women, children, 2SLGBTQQIA+ people facing gender-based violence. This strategy will support new shelters and transition housing for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples across the country, including on reserve, in the North, and in urban areas.
- $49.3 million to support the implementation of Gladue Principles in the mainstream justice system and Indigenous-led responses in order to help reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice and correctional systems.
- $8.1 million to develop Administration of Justice Agreements with Indigenous communities to strengthen community-based justice systems and support self-determination.
Enhanced 10-year Grant Funding for First Nations
To help advance a new fiscal relationship with First Nations, a new 10-year grant funding mechanism was implemented in 2019. This initiative aims to provide more long-term stabilized program supports for eligible First Nations who choose to join the grant. It allows them to build capacity, do effective planning, and account for inflation and population increases on reserve. The Government of Canada has also committed to escalate the 10-year grants to address price and population growth and ensure that funding keeps pace with the needs of First Nations.
- Budget 2021 proposes to provide $2.7 billion over 10 years, starting in 2021-22, to ensure that funding for core programs and services provided through the 10-year grants addresses key cost drivers. Escalation will be based on inflation and the population of each community, but a minimum of 2 per cent annual growth will be provided to ensure that First Nations within the grant receive stable and predictable funding. This will strengthen communities’ ability to design and deliver services in a manner that reflects community priorities.
Supporting Indigenous-led Data Governance
Access to reliable and culturally relevant data on Indigenous peoples is critical to building a complete portrait of Indigenous lived experiences, unmasking inequalities, and ensuring delivery of effective policies and programs. Indigenous-led data strategies can further self-determination by providing First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation governments and organizations with the data they need to support their communities.
- Budget 2021 proposes to invest $73.5 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to continue work towards the development and implementation of a First Nations Data Governance Strategy.
- Budget 2021 proposes to invest $8 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to support Inuit and Métis baseline data capacity and the development of distinctions-based Inuit and Métis Nation data strategies.
After hearing about all that is wrapped up in this federal budget, you may be asking yourself, “now what” or “what’s next?”
Now that the Budget has been tabled in the House of Commons, Members of Parliament are now debating the bill and determining whether any changes need to happen prior to the Budget being brough to a vote. In addition to the Budget, there is also a piece of legislation called the Budget Implementation Bill. This bill will set out how the Budget will be implemented and is set to be tabled in the House of Commons next week.
Add Your Voice
It is important to note that both Budget 2021 and the Budget Implementation Bill need to be supported by the majority of MPs in the House of Commons. There is still time to provide input and it is critical to act quickly in voicing support, questions, concerns, or opposition. Budget 2021 is an important milestone in Canada’s history as a path forward is being charted that will see the country through the pandemic, or what we’ve often heard referred to as “unprecedented times.”
If Budget 2021 and the Budget Implementation Act are passed, we will see significant federal investment flow into the Canadian economy with a substantial portion allocated to indigenous communities. However, should Budget 2021 be defeated, Canadians will be heading to the polls shortly in another federal election.
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