Federal Budget: Is Money Enough?

By Lorraine Rousseau

Federal budget 2022 was tabled last week and I received this with optimism. Our union, PSAC, welcomes the government’s investments in making life more affordable to workers and their families. I’m happy to see firm commitments to invest in dental care, housing and affordable childcare and infrastructure. Those are priorities that many of us have long been fighting for.

Much of this government’s budget announcement is infused with terms such as “historic” and “previous” investments, as well as much flair of in proclaiming an address of “building strong and resilient Indigenous communities”. Resilient Indigenous communities … when haven’t the Indigenous Peoples not been resilient. The funds committed need action, accountability and actual measures. Measures such as, the delivery and implementation of accessed funds by Indigenous Peoples for Indigenous Peoples. Accountability in the form of proactive disclosure on the part of government agencies in this work. Action in the face of barriers, intergenerational trauma, racism, discrimination and systemic inequality.

A remarkable part of the budget focuses on addressing the needs of Indigenous communities, “Moving Forward on Reconciliation.” Some of the priorities are supporting Indigenous children, addressing the shameful legacy of residential schools, investing in housing and infrastructure… the list goes on. Detailed information, and promising numbers, can be found on www.budget.gc.ca.

In this space, let’s focus on two priorities, that I’m happy to see them addressed: Indigenous sovereignty and climate action. Those two priorities determine the future of the North, and the rest of the country. According to the report, Budget 2022 is investing to ensure the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and taking steps to advance Indigenous climate leadership.

Climate change is not an abstract idea for northern communities. We witness, firsthand, the impact of the global environmental crisis. Indigenous communities are more vulnerable to the consequences of climate change: flooding, wildfires, permafrost thaw, and threats to local food sources. According to the report: “Budget 2022 proposes to provide $29.6 million over three years, starting in 2022-23, to Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to support the co-development of an Indigenous Climate Leadership Agenda to support self-determined action in addressing Indigenous peoples’ climate priorities.”

However, I was hoping for more for us all. More than money.

Privatisation and Investing in CIB

Canada Infrastructure Bank, the focus on privatisation remains a problem that affects workers and communities. Contracting out doesn’t only impact workers, but communities: corporations are profit driven and privatization affects public services. Our communities need strong and stable public services to continue, especially in the North, the remoteness, the isolation is a known to those of us who work and live here. Private industry through contracts provide small relief and smaller services; workers in public service have been and are the recruited, retained and backbone of functioning infrastructures that all populations in remote areas can and do rely on.

The government is investing another $500 million in the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), which leads to the privatization of vital public infrastructure, higher costs, more risk and reduced quality of services to Canadians.

Last week, Bill C-245 was debated in the House of Common. This bill was first tabled by Manitoba MP Niki Ashton in February, and it amends the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) Act. The changes will address needs of Indigenous and northern communities. In addition to focusing on projects that are not harmful to the environment, the bill ensures that Indigenous voices are represented at the table. If passed, the bill would also require CIB to submit an annual detailed report with information about its activities and investments.

Without action, recognition of the truths of the North: Is Money Enough?

This column originally appeared in Yellowknifer on April 13, 2021.