On March 22, 2016, Finance Minister Bill Morneau tabled the 2016 federal budget (“2016 Budget”). As expected, the 2016 Budget sets out the new Liberal government’s priorities with respect to Indigenous peoples and promises significant investments to improve their socio-economic status.

In fact, Chapter 3 of the 2016 Budget proposes to invest $8.4 billion over a five-year period for Indigenous peoples and their communities, an amount that is -- per the 2016 Budget -- “a significant increase over the investments that would have been made under the Kelowna Accord”. This investment is primarily divided into four spending categories:

  1. relationship building;
  2. education, children and training;
  3. infrastructure; and
  4. other initiatives.

Relationship Building

The 2016 Budget sets aside $40 million over two years to fulfill the federal government’s earlier promise to hold a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

In addition, $96 million is earmarked to fund Aboriginal Representative Organizations over the next five years, which includes national entities such as the Assembly of First Nations andthe Métis National Council, as well as provincial organizations such as the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and the Council of Yukon First Nations.

Education, Children and Training

The 2016 Budget provides for an investment of $4.2 billion over five years for education, children and training.

Education

Of this $4.2 billion, $2.6 billion is targeted at improving primary and secondary education for First Nations children by addressing immediate needs and by funding language and culture, literacy and numeracy and special needs education programs. $824 million is set aside to support the transformation of the current on-reserve education system through partnerships with First Nations. In addition to these amounts, $969.4 million has been earmarked to repair and construct schools on reserve.

Children

The 2016 Budget proposes to invest $634.8 million over five years in order to reform the First Nations Child and Family Services program (“FNCFS”) and to address its immediate needs.

This follows a recent decision landmark decision rendered by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (the “Tribunal”), in which the Tribunal found that FNCFS was discriminatory due to service gaps, delays or denials – all of which had an adverse impact on First Nations children and families on reserve.1.

Training

Under the 2016 Budget, $15 million is budgeted to be spent on a pilot project to enhance training programs in fields that would support community needs, including housing construction, water treatment, childcare and local administration.

In addition, the federal government intends to hold consultations in order to work towards a renewed and expanded Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy.

Infrastructure

One of the cornerstones of the 2016 Budget is the federal government’s $120 billion New Infrastructure Plan, which includes $11.9 billion in short-term spending on infrastructure projects. Over a five-year period, $1.2 billion is dedicated to social infrastructure and $729 million to green infrastructure in Indigenous communities. In addition to these investments in social and green infrastructure, the 2016 Budget also proposes to invest $255 million over two years to support investments in complementary infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and energy systems.

Social Infrastructure

The 2016 Budget provides for $739 million to be spent on First Nations, Inuit and northern housing. $416.6 million of this amount is allotted to address immediate housing needs through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and $137.7 million is budgeted to support renovations and retrofits of existing housing through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. $117.7 million is set to be provided to the Territories in order to address housing needs in the North.

In addition to housing, the 2016 Budget also proposes to spend:

  • $270 million over five years to support the construction, renovation and repair of nursing stations, residences for health care workers and health offices on reserve;
  • $100 million between 2017 and 2018 for early learning and child care, following a consultation process to be held to develop a new National Early Learning and Child Care Framework;
  • $76.9 million over two years to support the construction of cultural and recreational infrastructure on reserve;
  • $33.6 million over five years, and up to $8.3 million ongoing, additional funding to shelters serving victims of family violence in First Nations communities; and
  • $29.4 million immediately to undertake urgent repairs and renovations of facilities used by the Aboriginal Head Start on Reserve program and the First Nations and Inuit Child Care Initiative.

Green Infrastructure

As part of the initial phase of the New Infrastructure Plan, the 2016 Budget proposes to invest $2.24 billion on green infrastructure on reserve.

A large part of this amount -- $1.8 billion over five years -- is dedicated to addressing health and safety needs, ensuring facility operation and maintenance of water and wastewater infrastructure and ending boil water advisories on reserve. In line with this investment, an additional $141.7 million will be dedicated to improve monitoring and testing of community drinking water on reserve.

As for the remaining amount, $409 million is targeted at improving garbage and waste management on reserve by diverting waste from reserve lands to municipal facilities, promoting recycling and composting programs and supporting the construction of properly engineered landfills for remote communities.

Other Initiatives

Finally, the 2016 Budget also provides for a number of other initiatives targeted at Indigenous people, notably:

  • $25 million over five years to support economic development for the Métis Nation;
  • The renewal of the funding of the Urban Aboriginal Strategy ($23.7 million per year) and Aboriginal Languages Initiative ($5 million per year), which were both set to expire this year, for an additional year;
  • An additional $4 million per year for the Aboriginal Courtwork Program, which assists Indigenous people within the criminal justice system;
  • $20 million over two years to strengthen the capital base of the First Nations Finance Authority; and
  • $33.1 million immediately to extend the Atlantic and Pacific Integrated Commercial Fisheries Initiatives, which seek to integrate First Nations fishing enterprises into existing commercial fisheries.

Conclusion

The 2016 Budget promises significant investments in Indigenous communities, in terms of both infrastructure and programming. Long-term spending on Indigenous infrastructure under Canada’s New Infrastructure Plan remains to be detailed.