By Stephanie Taylor
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Ottawa is preparing to spend $4.3 billion over seven years to help improve Indigenous housing, while also giving more to help communities contend with the harmful past of residential schools.
Investing more this year in housing for Indigenous Peoples is priority in the agreement the federal minority Liberal government struck with the New Democrats, as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-election platform last year.
Expectations were high and the Assembly of First Nations alone had asked to see $44 billion in the budget to address current housing needs, which includes issues around repairs and overcrowding.
The national advocacy organization had asked for another $16 billion to account for population growth until 2040.
Thursday’s 2022 federal budget commits $4 billion, including $652 million this fiscal year, to Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs to speed up work on the issue.
That includes $2.4 billion for on-reserve housing over five years. The funding timeline for Inuit housing, at $845 million, and Metis communities, at $190 million, is over seven years. The budget did not include detailed figures beyond fiscal 2026-27.
The spending plan also gives a total of $150 million to the three territorial governments to address housing needs in the north, home to many First Nations and Inuit communities.
The Liberals promised last year to develop an urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing strategy. Thursday’s budget pledges $300 million over five years so that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. can work with Indigenous communities to build the plan.
The federal government set aside $40 billion in its fall economic statement to cover a historic child-welfare agreement.
Half of that is part of a compensation settlement package, while the other half is set aside for long-term reforms.
Ottawa is still negotiating with relevant parties about a final agreement after an agreement-in-principle was reached last December.
Once reached, Thursday’s budget says $2 billion of the $20 billion for long-term reforms would be dedicated to housing.
The budget also addresses the ongoing search for unmarked graves at the former sites of residential schools.
The budget includes nearly $210 million to help communities with their efforts, as well as a new building for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, which is home to many residential-school related records.
It also provides $10 million to fund the government’s future appointment of a special interlocutor, first promised last August, to help steer policy around searching for and commemorating unmarked graves.
In terms of Trudeau’s pledge to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations, for which 34 remain, the budget gives $400 million to support community infrastructure.
It says nearly $250 million of that will be put toward water and wastewater systems.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2022.