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Budget 2022 devotes $4.3 billion to Indigenous housing needs

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.
Copies of the 2022 federal budget in English are seen in the media lockup, ahead of the tabling of the federal budget, in Ottawa, on Thursday, April 7, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

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.

Spending more this year in housing for Indigenous Peoples is a 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 leading into the release of the 2022 federal budget, and the Assembly of First Nations alone had asked to see $44 billion in the plan to addresscurrent housing needs on reserve, which include issues around repairs and overcrowding. 

The national advocacy organization had asked for another $16 billion to account for population growth until 2040. 

Thursday's budget fell far short of that, committing $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 — which AFN National Chief RoseAnne Archibald says greatly fails to meet communities' needs. 

"Why aren't you funding First Nations to what they require? That's a question for government," she said in an interview Thursday. 

The funding timeline for Inuit housing, at $845 million, and Métis 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. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said while Thursday's budget doesn't go far enough to address Indigenous housing needs, his party fought for the increase the spending plan did include, which he called "significant."

"We fought for an additional $4 billion for housing for Indigenous communities in addition to what the government was going to do," he said following the budget's release. 

"But I want to be very clear: this is still absolutely not enough for justice for Indigenous people."

Archibald called for an overhaul around the way the federal government funds First Nations, saying instead of the focus being on asks around annual budget cycles, the conversation should be around how to achieve "economic reconciliation." 

"First Nations are cut off from the wealth of their lands," the national chief said. 

"Somebody else is benefiting from all of the wealth on the lands, like all of Canada's economy, whether it's resources or taxation ... we really need to start to talk about how do First Nations begin to actually benefit from that."

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.

Ottawa also 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. 

Part of the discussion around changing the way Ottawa provides services—such as medical or educational ones — for First Nations children has revolved around a measure called Jordan's Principle, which is meant to ensure governments provide what's needed first, rather than get caught up in jurisdictional fights about who pays for what. 

Thursday's budget dedicates $4 billion over six years toward Jordan's Principle, which it says "will also support long-term reforms to improve the implementation."

Archibald said she sees that spending as being compensation for the past wrongs of governments that locked themselves in funding disputes rather than providing children with timely care. 

"What we need is for them to build systems so that never happens again."

Thursday's budget also addressed 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.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press