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Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

Women and Indigenous Peoples left ‘out in the cold’ by Ottawa, say critics 

November 30, 2023

NDP MP Lori Idlout rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick 

Canada’s National Observer: NDP members are voting against Ottawa’s fall economic statement to protest gaps in funding for Indigenous Services in the midst of an infrastructure crisis.

On Thursday, Lori Idlout and Leah Gazan, two Indigenous caucus members for the NDP and critics for Indigenous Services and Women and Gender Equality respectively, voted to “send a very clear message to the Liberal government,” Gazan said at a press conference. “We are putting them on notice that it’s not OK anymore to leave women, gender-diverse and Indigenous Peoples out in the cold,” she said. 

Gazan points to $150 million in cuts to women’s shelters as an example of leaving vulnerable people without enough support.

Niki Ashton, the other NDP critic for Indigenous Services, told Canada’s National Observer much of the cuts are coming because some programs are concluding. Programs, like funding for women’s shelters, were expanded during the pandemic and are not being renewed now. More than 600 women’s shelters across Canada are set to lose funding, CBC News reports.

For Idlout, Ottawa’s mini-budget is a sign the Liberal government isn’t willing to “do what they can to uplift Indigenous Peoples,” she said. “These cuts will keep Indigenous Peoples marginalized,” Idlout added.

The Assembly of First Nations has said as much as $350 billion is needed to close the infrastructure gap in First Nations, according to a report published last spring. “This figure does not even include infrastructure gaps for Métis and Inuit,” Idlout noted.

The infrastructure gap and absence of funding in the mini-budget also raise questions about the federal government’s approach to climate mitigation in Indigenous communities.

Canada’s National Observer reporting has shown the disproportionate impact wildfire has on First Nations. Over 95 First Nations this year alone have been evacuated from their communities at a price tag of at least $148.3 million for the crisis response.

Ottawa has been warned inaction will cost more money and harm Indigenous Peoples.

Last year, the auditor general released a scathing report highlighting the failure of Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) to prepare robust emergency management plans for First Nations. The audit noted ISC’s regional emergency plans were absent or outdated and no risk assessment had been done on the hardest hit nations, even after an earlier 2013 audit called for one. 

The department also spent three and a half times more on responding to emergencies than it did preparing for and preventing them over the previous three years, the audit found.

In question period on Thursday, Conservative MP Jamie Schmale referenced the audit, noting 112 mitigation projects are eligible for funding, but remain unfunded. “The Liberals are not meeting the moment,” Ashton said in a previous interview.

Funding cuts to Indigenous Services could be as much as $7 billion, with over 1,000 workers at risk of losing their jobs if programs are not funded, CBC News reports.

It’s unclear if the fall economic statement, heralded as a marker of restraint to keep the deficit in check, will mute Ottawa’s promise to improve infrastructure in Indigenous communities by 2030. 

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative