Current Problems

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

Indigenous Services won’t say if feds are on track to meet 2030 infrastructure pledge

November 6, 2023

Minister’s office stands by target but her department, citing $349B estimate, seems less sure

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)

CBC Indigenous: Canada’s Indigenous Services minister is standing by the Trudeau government’s pledge to close the infrastructure gap in Indigenous communities by 2030, even as her own department — citing a nearly $350-billion cost estimate — seems a little less sure.

Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) refuses to say whether it believes the government is on track to meet this mandate, which was assigned to Patty Hajdu when she became ISC minister in 2021, after being asked directly in an order paper question.

“The Government of Canada knows there is more work to do,” reads the Sept. 18 answer, in part. “ISC will continue to work directly with First Nations, First Nations organizations and other federal organizations to identify what further measures and investments may be required to close the infrastructure gap by 2030.”

Order paper questions allow parliamentarians to get written answers from the government outside of Ottawa’s daily question period. This one was provided to the NDP’s Niki Ashton, the MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski.

Her query was limited to the infrastructure gap in First Nations communities, and asked how Ottawa measures the existing gap, what the current estimate of it is, and if the government feels it’s on pace to bridge it by 2030, as promised.

She saw the answer as a tacit admission. “I’m glad their answer wasn’t, ‘Yes,'” Ashton said. “I’m glad they’re being honest that they’re not on track, and that to me is what that answer says — that they aren’t on track.”

A woman with glasses and a green blazer speaks into a microphone at a podium. Two people stand behind her.
NDP MP Niki Ashton speaks during a news conference in Ottawa alongside Manitoba First Nations leaders in April. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

According to the answer, ISC is able to measure progress by assessing the conditions of housing, public water systems, education and health facilities, and other unspecified government-funded assets, but can’t unequivocally state how big the on-reserve infrastructure gap is, as the department is awaiting input directly from First Nations.

The government “expects that a comprehensive estimate of First Nations’ infrastructure needs should be available in fall of 2023,” the answer says.

Ashton, whose riding includes northern Manitoba First Nations with urgent infrastructure needs, said that’s unacceptable. “The federal government should know better than anyone the glaring infrastructure needs in communities.”

Hundreds of billions needed: reports

In the meantime, the order paper answer says Indigenous Services and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) have co-developed a comprehensive report, estimating it would cost $349.2 billion to close the infrastructure gap in First Nations by 2030.  The AFN, a national advocacy group, is urging the government to include $175.83 billion, roughly half the overall estimate, in the 2024 budget.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the national representative organization for Inuit, has put its infrastructure ask at $75.1 billion over 35 years. The Métis National Council seeks $2.7 billion for housing and infrastructure from the next budget.

Lori Idlout, MP for Nunavut and the NDP’s critic for Indigenous Services, doesn’t forecast a windfall of more than $400 billion from the spending plan.  “I’ve learned not to expect too much,” she said. “Every year it’s a disappointment.”

Woman in glasses standing to speak.
NDP MP Lori Idlout rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa in June 2022. (Justin Tang/CP)

She expressed deep frustration with the government’s answer, saying it all but guarantees Indigenous communities will remain on the socioeconomic fringes. “It just always feels like it’s genocidal policies that will continue, that we’re going to continue to be oppressed by not investing in what can help us,” she said.

“Canada’s genocidal policies are working, and we need to start making changes.”

Minister’s office says gaps will be closed

The House of Commons Indigenous affairs committee has already warned that the 2030 target “will not be met” when it comes to housing, at the current pace of investment. “Changes are required if Canada is to significantly address housing needs by 2030,” the committee said in a June 2022 report

Hajdu was not made available for an interview to respond to the concerns. Her director of communications Simon Ross supplied a written statement instead. “Decades of underfunding and discrimination will not be fixed overnight, but it must be done,” he wrote. “We will close the infrastructure gaps by 2030, because every child and family deserve a fair chance to succeed.”

Ross defended the Trudeau government’s record, saying the Liberals have spent almost $10 billion on nearly 9,500 projects that will benefit 613 communities since their first budget in 2016.

Idlout and Ashton suggested that’s a drop in the bucket when there’s a great sea of need. They accused the Liberals of choosing rhetoric, symbolism and promises but failing to deliver results.

Idlout said it sends a bad message that the Liberals have been promoting this promise without a clear, factual sense of how much it would cost, whether it’s achievable, and whether they are measurably on track.

“For them, it’s just about making promises and that’s it, and then it becomes dead air,” she said.


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.