DEFENDING OUR SOVEREIGNTY

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Conservative's Fear Budget 2015: Canada's Future Not High on Harper's Radar

One need only skim through the Conservative government's budget to see that this massive 528 page propaganda piece is Prime Minister Harper's last big election pitch - support Harper or the terrorists will get you. The political messaging goes even further and seems to suggest that the safety and security of Canadians in all facets of life are at risk and the only way to save themselves is support to support Harper's Cons.

This is a do or die budget - literally, according to Harper. Menacing words like: threat, evil, terror, danger, harm, hurt, pain, suffering, risks/threats to safety appear 231 times in the budget plan. By comparison, the word "peace" only appears 3 times, and words like: Charter rights, constitutional rights, anti-poverty, equality, climate change, women's rights, Aboriginal rights, treaty rights, Aboriginal title, self-government, or murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls do not appear at all. The word "sovereignty" only appears in a stark military context. There is no value placed in human rights freedoms, civil liberties, equality or Aboriginal rights. The climate does not seem to be on their "radar" any more than the thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women. This is a true fear monger's budget.

I don't recall even hearing the words "First Nation" or "Aboriginal" in the budget speech - it's like we don't exist. Despite there being major multiple, over-lapping crises in many First Nations - like a lack of housing, water and sanitation, education, health care, flooding, children in care, and murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls - this budget completely ignores these life and death realities. Harper has sent another very clear signal that the lives of First Nation men, women and children mean less than various frivolities like Ottawa's tulips or Canada Day celebrations.

The majority of the funds promised in the budget are just old announcements and much of the other funding announced is not actually "new" money, but either ongoing funding or re-purposed. Many of the funding amounts are promised "over five years" and therefore only flows if you vote for Harper. Take for example the $33M Harper promised to conduct labour market surveys in First Nations - more than $22M of that money will be re-purposed from already allocated federal funding. In other words, another program will suffer with less money so Harper can survey Indians. Other funding announced will be minuscule in its impact. The $2M a year in mental health services for First Nations equates to a little more than $3k per First Nation or less than $1 per person in many First Nations.

Most of what appears to be big money will never find its way to actual First Nation communities. The $34M and $80M a year over 5 years for "consultations" will go to the Environmental Assessment Agency and National Energy Board - not First Nations. The federal government and its agencies are already well-funded and well-armed with Justice lawyers, policy analysts, technicians, researchers and administrative support to assist them in consultations - but First Nations have none of that. This budget makes consultations on major projects worse for First Nations.

The $12M in funds over 3 years to Indspire does not equal new funds, but represents an ongoing prior investment and does not go to First Nations at all. It represents a drop in the bucket of what is needed to provide real support to First Nations in post-secondary institutions. There are approximately 22,000 Aboriginal students in post-secondary institutions and declining every year due to lack of funding. The Auditor General estimated that about 9,500 or more are on waiting lists to be funded for university. This $4M a year for Indspire amounts to $180 per current student, or if it was intended for those on the waiting list - only $420 per student. This minimal investment has no potential to address the current underfunding or the education attainment gap. It wouldn't even be enough to buy text books.

Last year, Harper and former National Chief Atleo made a surprise joint announcement that the federal government would increase First Nation education funding by $1.9B - which turns out was not all new funding and most of it was not for First Nations, but for a new, additional bureaucracy to get First Nation schools in line with provincial curriculum. It was also conditional on agreeing to legislation allowing INAC to have greater control over First Nation education. The First Nation reaction was swift and led to Atleo's resignation and a failure by Harper to provide any of the funding promised. Harper's budget is a sign that his plan continues to be to starve us into submission.

The current educational deficit in First Nations is well over $6B and thus a $200M undefined investment does not address that deficit, let alone provide the much needed funding to catch up. $200M over 5 years is only $40M a year or a little more than $63k per First Nation - not even enough to hire one reading resource teacher. Keeping in mind however, that even this funding is conditional on modelling First Nation schools after provincial systems. This minimal investment should be compared to the $200M investment being made in Canada Day celebrations. Just like the budget for tulips in Ottawa instead of protections for murdered and missing Indigenous women - First Nations are clearly Harper's very last priority.

It should be no surprise that education was not a major investment by Harper either at the k-12 level or the post-secondary level. His focus is on skilled labour force for his resource projects. Aboriginal Labour Market Programming is set to receive $248.5M over 5 years to increase the skilled labour in Aboriginal communities. Harper has made no secret that he wants to employ as many Aboriginal people as possible in oil, pipelines, Ring of Fire, uranium, and mining industries to justify his aggressive resource and energy development plans (think hydro, nuclear, and tar sands).

It's hardly worth even mentioning the $30M over 5 years to permit 25 more First Nations into the First Nation Land Management Act regime as this amounts to $6M a year or $240k for only 25 select First Nations. No funding was allotted to address the billions in outstanding treaty, resource and land claims, or support for self-government agreements (for those who want them). There was nothing to address governance or crisis social issues like murdered and missing women or kids in care - despite major reports from the United Nations finding Canada to have committed "grave violations" of our human rights.

Parties and parades is Harper's priority along with pandas and hockey. He has not only cheated First Nations, but has cheated Canadians by selling GM shares and dipping into the reserves - in both senses of the word - to fake a balanced budget. This can't even be called a status quo budget or play it safe budget. By failing to address significant gaps in socio-economic conditions of First Nations, he and Minister Valcourt set up a budget that violates their own mandate to improve the economic and social well-being of Canadians. By refusing to address any of the crises, the lives of our men, women and children are at risk.

The real danger doesn't come from terrorists, but from Harper's destruction of the environment, his failure to address climate change, his failure to address education and health care, and his wilful neglect of First Nation lives and well-being. Perhaps is he spent less money criminalizing those who are protecting the lands, waters and people in Canada, he would have enough money to invest in our collective futures.

This Fear Budget 2015 shows that Canadians and First Nations alike have something to fear alright - and it's Canada's biggest terrorist: PM Harper. He represents the biggest threat to our collective well-being and future generations that Canada has ever seen.

If ever there was a time for treaty partners to come together - it is now.