Liberals pledge $9B in new money for Indigenous communities in 2024 budget

Liberals pledge $9B in new money for Indigenous communities in 2024 budget

The Trudeau government is promising $9 billion in new cash for Indigenous communities over the next five years, a smaller spend than some past budgets but one the government says builds on past investments and maintains an upward trend.

With no single big-ticket item for Indigenous Peoples this year, ongoing Liberal commitments and previous pledges figure prominently in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s latest federal budget.

“Spending on Indigenous priorities has increased significantly since 2015 (181 per cent) with spending for 2023-24 estimated to be over $30.5 billion,” the budget says.

Yet as she rose Tuesday in the House of Commons to table the plan, Freeland didn’t mention reconciliation — a topic that figured prominently in Liberal budgets past — nor did she mention Indigenous issues at an earlier news conference with reporters.

Budget 2024’s biggest line items on that front include $1.5 billion for Indigenous child and family services, $1.2 billion for First Nations kindergarten to Grade 12 education, and $1 billion for First Nations and Inuit health.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers had fanned out en masse in the weeks before the budget, announcing a raft of housing and affordability measures targeting younger voters, which raised expectations among Indigenous groups as well.

The spending plan offers $918 million for Indigenous housing and community infrastructure, on top of $5 billion already available this year from past budgets, “to narrow housing and infrastructure gaps” in Indigenous communities.

That new money represents less than one per cent of the $135.1 billion the Assembly of First Nations says is required to solve the housing crunch in First Nations communities alone, without considering Inuit and Métis needs.

In the lead-up to the budget, national Indigenous organizations also focused their advocacy on housing and infrastructure, estimating it would cost more than $425 billion to close the overall gap in Indigenous infrastructure by 2030, the Liberals’ stated target.

Other new cash envelopes promise $927 million for on-reserve income assistance, $640 million to support Indigenous mental health and $467 million for First Nations and Inuit-led policing, a program Canada’s auditor general recently found was poorly managed and failed to spend millions of dollars from its existing budget.

$5B in loan guarantees for resource projects

Aside from direct cash infusions, under the banner of “getting major projects done” the budget promises to guarantee up to $5 billion in loans for Indigenous communities to participate in natural resource development and energy projects in their territories.

These loans would be provided by financial institutions or other lenders and guaranteed by the federal government, meaning Indigenous borrowers who opt in could benefit from lower interest rates, the budget says.

The promise of $5 billion in loan guarantees for natural resource projects, plus a promise to expand opt-in Indigenous tax frameworks, nudges Indigenous governments toward raising their own revenues, a policy position typically associated with the federal Conservatives.

The government is promising to bring forward legislation for what it calls an opt-in fuel, alcohol, cannabis, tobacco and vaping (FACT) sales tax framework.

The budget notably includes $57.5 million to build a mercury poisoning care home in Grassy Narrows First Nation in northern Ontario, delivering on a central 2019 Trudeau election pledge.

One thing it doesn’t mention specifically is tuberculosis elimination in Inuit regions, for which national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami had sought $131.6 million over seven years.

Seeking to allay concerns about spending cuts and “sunsetting” program cash, the budget says $2.3 billion of the new money committed over the next five years renews existing programming set to expire.

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