March 26, 2012
As everyone is probably aware this is federal budget week here in Ottawa. There are also a number of recent provincial budgets such as Quebec and Saskatchewan, and Ontario will table its budget this week as well.
We’ve pressed hard, as have regional organizations in provincial budgets, for First Nations being considered as a priority in the upcoming budget. As every year, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) participated in the pre-budget process in the Fall and appeared before the Parliamentary Finance Committee. Consistent with pursuing a rights-based agenda and under a theme of Structural Transformation & Critical Investments in First Nations, AFN submitted the need for investment across many areas building on previous submissions:
• Fundamental structural change is necessary to assure fairness and realize full potential
• Investments in First Nations continue to make sense – especially in a climate of fiscal restraint and reductions
• AFN recommends that the Government of Canada:
o Transform the fiscal relationship ensuring sustainability and stability
o Make critical investments in First Nation education and skills development enabling greater success and opportunity
o Invest in safe and healthy communities through supporting infrastructure, housing and health care
Media reports and statements indicate that the overall goal of this Government with this budget will be to cut costs.
Still, we also hear that our advocacy has made an impact. There are indications being driven by media that the budget may contain some provisions reflecting the priority we have all placed on education. We’ll have to wait and see before we jump to any conclusions. As with all budgets and maybe even particularly this one, we will, at every level – First Nations, regionally and nationally, have to analyze the full budget.
Commentators expect this to be an austerity budget and suggest it may be the most significant federal spending plan in a generation. My role and AFN’s has been dedicated to advocacy to bring our issues forward. We have taken our case to the highest levels in this country and to every sector and made a strong case for action. Building understandings and relationships are an important aspect of change. At the same time we must and always will vigorously defend our rights and interests. Our job is to always open the doors for change through carefully following your instruction for both proactive and defensive strategies.
If we are not satisfied, we will, based on our collective analysis, together, let the government know in clear and unequivocal terms. It will be important that we assess where we are at post-budget and determine our next steps collectively to achieve the action and the change our people deserve. We are working closely with the full National Executive to ensure an analysis gets underway immediately after the budget. I look forward to your reflection and your analysis as we inform and build our next steps together. The Assembly of First Nations is the Chiefs and the Nations and not one voice or the secretariat here in Ottawa. We are here to serve the Nations and advance your resolution.
We continue to do this work at an increasingly important time for our peoples. We know that our peoples stand at the edge of both great opportunity and challenge. Recalling the wisdom of our ancestors and driven by the energy and opportunity needed for our youth today – we will continue on the path that ensures all First Nations assume our rightful place in our homes, on our traditional lands and in the broader society and economy.