Ontario budgets cuts to Indigenous Affairs a setback for reconciliation, says Carolyn Bennett – CBC.ca

Ontario budget\s cuts to Indigenous Affairs a setback for reconciliation, says Carolyn Bennett - CBC.ca

Ontario to Balance Budget in 5 Years With Slower Spending

The Ontario budget released this week has some saying that reconciliation does not appear to be a priority with the new Progressive Conservative government. 

Cuts of nearly $1 billion from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services over three years and a 15 per cent cut in core funding for the Ministry of Indigenous Affairs is attacking the most vulnerable, according to Kiiwetinoong New Democrat MPP Sol Mamakwa.

Canadas Ontario aims to slay deficit in five years as it limits spending

"When we talk about the budget, it's kind of like what we can foresee in the next year," he said.

"It seems that the budget forecast says that Indigenous people do not matter with this government, it's very clear from the cuts that they've made."

TORONTO (Reuters) – Ontario’s Conservative government, presenting its first budget on Thursday, forecast a smaller deficit for the Canadian province in the current fiscal year and a return to balance by 2023-24 as it disclosed plans to reverse the growth in spending.

Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett said she was "extraordinarily disappointed" in the Ontario budget and that it's a "real setback" in the momentum of reconciliation in Canada.

The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs' budget last year was $146 million. This year its base funding was reduced by 15 per cent to 74.4 million, down from 88 million last year, and there is no allotment for one-time investments such as claim settlements.

“I think it is positive from a market perspective,” said Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank. “The deficit implementation plan is reasonable, provided it can meet its targets. They are clearly ambitious on spending.”

"The whole point of settlements is to try to get out of court and to be able to negotiate a settlement that is fair for those communities," said Bennett.

But a slowdown in the once red-hot housing market and global economic headwinds could increase the fiscal challenges for the province, which accounts for about 40 percent of Canada’s economy and is a major exporter of cars and other manufactured products.

She said that though it's not clear how Ontario is going to bookkeep settlements, in the cases going forward, the Ontario government will be needed at the table and they will will have to "sort that out."

That could soothe bond investors, who had been looking for evidence the Conservatives would tackle the province’s heavy debt load. At about C$368 billion, estimated in 2018-19, Ontario has one of the largest sub-sovereign debts in the world.

In an email response to CBC News, a spokesperson from the Office of Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Mines, Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs said "One-time funding amounts for land settlement claims for the coming fiscal year have not been settled at this time, hence no number allotted."

The 2018-19 deficit was much more than the C$6.7 billion deficit projected by the Liberals in last year’s budget, due mostly to accounting adjustments and the cancellation of a cap- and-trade carbon tax by the Conservatives.

The spokesperson added $2.7 million has been earmarked in support of Indigenous economic development, money that will be spread between the Indigenous Economic Development Fund, New Relationship Fund, Indigenous Community Capital Grants Program and the Métis Voyageur Development Fund.

Alvin Fiddler, Grand Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) that represents 49 First Nations communities in Northern Ontario, said that despite references to some of NAN's projects and territory, the budget lacked details on how the province plans on honouring the commitments it has made.

But it was smaller than the C$13.5 billion deficit projected in February in a third-quarter update, while the 2023-24 projected timeline to eliminate the deficit was one year ahead of the Liberals’ target.

In December 2018, Pikangikum First Nation became the first community to draw power from the provincial grid through the Wataynikaneyap Power Project, which is to connect an additional 15 communities by 2023.

The province, which has run deficits every year since 2008-09, pays more to borrow than some other major Canadian provinces, such as Quebec and British Columbia, that are running balanced budgets.

"There's no sort of concrete commitments on how they plan on supporting the rest of the project which is just getting off the ground," said Fiddler.

Fiddler said the NAN team is working on breaking down the numbers presented in the budget to figure out what it really means moving forward, but he remains skeptical about the PC government's commitment to reconciliation.

The budget “sends a message to the world that we are serious about fiscal sustainability,” Finance Minister Vic Fedeli told a media briefing.

"One of the first things that they did was to cancel the Indigenous curriculum work that was going on at the time," said Fiddler.

"To me that just sent a signal to Indigenous Peoples that any commitment to reconciliation by this new government was under question."

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at [email protected] and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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Posted in Ontario