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Indigenous Services should be spared from spending cuts, say New Democrat MPs

September 22, 2023

Minister says no cuts proposed to programs or services

Lori Idlout speaks with Niki Ashton standing behind her.
NDP MP for Nunavut Lori Idlout speaks during a news conference in February in Ottawa, as NDP MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski Niki Ashton (left) looks on. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

CBC Indigenous: Indigenous Services Canada should be spared from proposed federal spending cuts aimed at saving a government-wide $15.4 billion over the next five years, say two New Democrat MPs.

“Not only should Indigenous Services not be cut, but we need to see further investments,” said Niki Ashton, who represents Churchill-Keewatinook Aski in northern Manitoba. “Any proposed cuts would have a devastating impact.”

In an interview Tuesday, Ashton said her party, which has an agreement with the Liberals to support them in confidence votes, is responding after Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu confirmed her department, like others, is mulling options to reduce spending.

Hajdu told reporters last month in Charlottetown that Indigenous Services is “going through the exercise” but looking at things like “duplication” in the bureaucracy, not direct service delivery. She doubled down on the point this week.

“I will not be proposing anything that cuts services or programs to Indigenous people,” she said in an interview. “That I’ve been very clear about.”

Ashton said the minister should specify where the money will come from, posing the question directly in question period Tuesday afternoon.

Hajdu instead trumpeted the Liberals’ record — saying First Nations community services have increased by 156 per cent since 2015 — and accused the Conservatives of entrenching poverty and slashing budgets under prime minister Stephen Harper. Asked for clarity by CBC News, Hajdu couldn’t say how much money her department is expected to save, or from where she would cut, and only reiterated she won’t propose anything touching Indigenous programs and services.

A politician gestures standing at a microphone, before a black curtain with Canadian flags behind it.
Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu speaks to reporters during the Liberal Cabinet retreat in Charlottetown in August. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

“The treasury board president has indicated her expectations around that as well,” said Hajdu, referencing Anita Anand, who directed ministers to deliver savings plans by Oct. 2. “We will be looking at efficiencies.”

Plan to make cuts unveiled in budget

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said she was “very concerned” by the issue. “They shouldn’t be making any cuts to Indigenous Services,” said Idlout, the NDP’s Indigenous Services critic.

“Investments for Indigenous peoples have never been enough.”

Idlout and Ashton outlined their concerns in a letter to Hajdu sent Monday, when Parliament resumed. The letter describes a dire situation facing communities: drug and suicide epidemics, struggles with tainted water, an acute housing deficit, health-care crises, climate emergencies and soaring food costs. 

“It will amount to a repudiation of this government’s commitment to reconciliation” if any cuts go through, the letter says.

What the letter doesn’t say is that the Liberals unveiled the savings initiative in the 2023 budget, which the NDP voted for under its supply and confidence agreement with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Asked to respond, Ashton said the Liberals weren’t being totally transparent and never said cuts would hit Indigenous Services.

“The more detailed information that’s coming out now about cuts towards Indigenous Services is something that we certainly do not support,” she said.

Idlout said she wasn’t aware of any cuts when the budget was passed. “It wasn’t made clear to me, but it doesn’t mean that we couldn’t advocate for changes,” she said.

They say the Liberals should be hounding tax-avoiding billionaires if they are keen on saving money, and criticized the Trudeau government for breaking key promises on things like eliminating boil water advisories.

Hajdu said clean water, housing and health care are her top three priorities this parliamentary session, which she hopes will include tabling a new Indigenous water bill this fall.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have called for greater cuts and railed against the Liberals’ record on affordability, accusing Trudeau of driving up the cost of living through incompetence, spending and chronic deficits.

The office of the Conservative Indigenous Services critic did not respond to an interview request.


Brett Forester, Reporter

Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.