KELOWNA, British Columbia -- Christmas came a month early for Canadian
First Nations as former Prime Minister Paul Martin announced more than $5
billion over the next five years to close the gap between aboriginal
peoples and other Canadians in education, health, housing and economic
The announcement was made at a first-of-its-kind November meeting in which
the prime minister of Canada, and premiers from the 10 provinces and three
territories, sat for two days of meetings focusing on aboriginal issues.
The meeting was timely, given extensive media coverage of Third World-style
living conditions faced by many aboriginal communities despite the many
land-claim cases First Nations have won over the past decade in the Supreme
"Our plan is built on a foundation of respect, accountability and shared
responsibility," said Martin. "With this plan, we have made an important
step forward in honouring our commitment to close the gap in the quality of
life that now exists between aboriginal peoples and other Canadians," he
said before he outlining five-year targets within the 10-year plan to
ensure actions remain focused and accountable.
"The prime minister and premiers recognize there is much despair in our
communities," said Anishnabek Grand Chief John Beaucage from the Union of
Ontario Indians. "Problems in housing, health, education and other social
indicators aren't the fault of First Nations; they're directly linked to
old government policies based on assimilation," he said. "I'm really
pleased with the results of this meeting. It was much better than we had
As the senior First Nations representative for Housing, Beaucage sat at the
main table with Martin and the premiers during the discussion in which $1.2
billion was agreed upon specifically for aboriginal housing.
"Housing is one of the best examples of how First Nations have taken the
lead in proposing a comprehensive 10-year strategy to improve First Nations
housing in Canada, both on- and off-reserve," said Beaucage. "These
improvements include over 60,000 new housing starts in the next 10 years."
The housing strategy also includes the development of a capital fund, a
market-based housing approach, addressing the continued need for social
housing, but also maintaining the status quo for those First Nations that
cannot support or take advantage of these significant developments. First
Nations will also make a significant 10-year proposal to administer these
housing programs themselves.
"For decades, our leaders have called for solutions to address our housing
crisis, to see fundamental change in programs and to lobby for a
substantial increase in investment. These achievements are just on the
horizon," he said.
First ministers and national aboriginal leaders agreed that broad
indicators will be used to assess the progress of the Plan. In addition,
more specific measures and targets will be developed at regional and
Martin acknowledged the Assembly of First Nations for taking the important
step of proposing the establishment of a First Nations auditor general and
an ombudsman. "We all need to make an ongoing commitment to openness,
transparency and good governance," he said. "The targets we set today must
be tracked and measured constantly so that everyone involved in this
process is accountable."
Aboriginal leaders are not concerned Martin's "ambitious plan of action"
will be dismissed if he loses the upcoming election before supporting
legislation can be passed.
"This deal is with the Government of Canada, not the Liberal Party," said
Phil Fontaine, national chief of the AFN. "It's going to be very difficult
for any government to retreat from any commitments that were made here."
"I certainly wouldn't want to be a national leader charged with continuing
the despair in our aboriginal communities by scrapping any of the
commitments made these past two days," added Beaucage.
As the leaders gathered in a final press conference, they resolved to hold
similar meetings every two years to track progresses on investments.
"Aboriginal Canadians have no desire for more rhetoric," said Martin. "It's
time for real results."
"We've seen how far we can go in two days: imagine how far we can go in 10
years," concluded Fontaine.
PLANNED FEDERAL INVESTMENTS FOR ALLOCATED FUNDS
Canada will invest a total of $1.8 billion over the next five years in
education initiatives at the early childhood, kindergarten -- 12 and
K -- 12: By 2016, the graduation rate for aboriginal students will be on
par with other Canadians. To achieve this goal, the Canadian government
will invest $1.05 billion over the next five years to promote education
innovation on-reserve, including assistance to establish a network of First
Nations school systems, with regional school authorities administered under
First Nations jurisdictions and enhancements for First Nations basic
education services; and $150 million over the next five years for
off-reserve initiatives within the public school system, including $50
million to improve education in the North.
Post-secondary education: In 2001, 23 percent of aboriginal peoples aged 18
-- 29 reported having completed their post-secondary education, compared to
43 percent in the rest of Canada. The Canadian government will invest $500
million over the next five years, including post-secondary education
bursaries, scholarships and apprenticeships. Canada will also undertake a
review to identify more initiatives that will help to close the overall
post-secondary education gap.
The incidence of infant mortality is almost 20 percent higher than in the
rest of Canada. Aboriginal people are three times more likely to have Type
2 diabetes. Suicide rates can be anywhere from three to 11 times more
frequent, particularly among Inuit.
The Canadian government will invest $1.3 billion over the next five years
to stabilize the First Nation and Inuit Health Branch, promote
transformation and to build capacity.
* Housing and infrastructure
On-reserve, the estimated housing shortage is 20,000 -- 35,000 units and
growing by 2,200 units per year. Off-reserve, the core housing need is 76
percent higher among aboriginal households than non-aboriginal households.
In the North, housing needs are 130 percent higher among aboriginal
households than non-aboriginal households. Canada will invest $1.6 billion
over the next five years to support transformative change in housing, with
special attention to involving aboriginal people in the development of a
strong and effective aboriginal housing system that will build capacity in
areas such as land administration and housing and financial management.
* Economic opportunities
The unemployment rate among aboriginal peoples is 19.1 percent, while the
national rate is 7.4 percent. On reserves, the unemployment rate is about
29 percent, four times the Canadian unemployment rate. The median
employment income for aboriginal Canadians is $16,000, while the average
for non-aboriginal Canadians is $25,000.
Canada will work to increase aboriginal employment levels by 30 percent
over the next five years and by 50 percent within 10 years. Canada will
invest $200 million over the next five years supporting commercial and
industrial activities, and Economic Development Framework initiatives.
* Relationships and accountability
The Canadian government recognized the importance of respecting the
differences among First Nations, Inuit and Metis and of including each
group as appropriate in policy. Canada will invest $170 million over the
next five years to national and regional aboriginal organizations to assist
them in enhancing capacity, policy development and development of
indicators and accountability.
The new funding builds on previous investments by the Canadian government
in areas of urgent need for aboriginal Canadians, including more than $1.4
billion confirmed in the 2005 budget, and more than $2.5 billion from
recent announcements including $2.2 billion in compensation for former
students of Indian residential schools.