The federal Liberals will support an NDP motion that calls for an immediate increase of $155-million in the amount spent on welfare services for First Nations children, but that does not mean the government will boost funding beyond what has already been budgeted.
While the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, an advocacy group for indigenous welfare, says the government needs to find at least that much new money to meet a minimum standard of care, the government argues that it has already increased funding for health and welfare on reserves by an amount close to what is being requested.
Government officials add that the agencies that provide social services to First Nations children do not currently have the capacity to spend more than what are being given. They say they are working with indigenous communities to develop more and better services over time.
“One of the challenges this House had always faced, that government has always faced, is the fact that dictating the solutions from the government side upon indigenous peoples hasn’t worked. Indeed, that has continued to fail,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau explained on Monday during the daily Question Period.
The government has twice received compliance orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which found last January that Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by providing less money for welfare on reserves than is available to children in the rest of Canada.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett agreed late last week to enter into a mediation process with the caring society, which launched the human-rights case, and the Assembly of First Nations to determine how to best meet the tribunal’s orders.
The Liberals came to power a year ago promising to repair the tattered relationship with Canada’s indigenous people, but the issue of child welfare on reserves has resurfaced time and again throughout the first 12 months of their mandate.
Most recently, the issue put the Liberals at odds with Senator Murray Sinclair, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that examined the painful history of Canada’s residential schools. The government promised to act upon all of his 94 recommendations, the first five of which called for Ottawa to correct the inequities in child welfare.
But Mr. Sinclair called on the government this week to “comply with the orders of the independent Human Rights Tribunal and stop discriminating against indigenous children through its inadequate finding of the services they need.”
Government officials say the Indigenous Affairs Department is spending an additional $71-million this year for on-reserve welfare services and the federal budget calls for that cash injection to rise annually to more than $176-million by 2021.
When that is added to the $382-million over three years in new money aimed at preventing First Nations children who need health care from being bounced between different levels of government, Ottawa will come close to providing the kind of dollars being demanded by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, the officials say.
But Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the society, does not buy that math. She says $151-million, above the budgeted $71-million, is needed this year alone to correct the welfare inequity.
Nor does Dr. Blackstock agree that capacity must be created in the First Nations welfare system before organizations on the ground are able to spend additional money efficiently. Indigenous agencies are “running deficits right now and they are ready to deliver these services,” she told reporters.Report Typo/Error