If spending more on Indigenous issues led to actual improvements in the lives of Indigenous people, then their lives would be much better by now.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals came to power in 2015, federal spending on Indigenous issues was $11.4 billion annually.
According to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s latest budget, it’s estimated at $27.4 billion this year — an increase in nominal dollars (not accounting for inflation) of 140% in seven years.
A new report by the Fraser Institute projects federal spending will be at least $35.5 billion by 2026, in large part due to the continuing economic fallout from settling class-action lawsuits with Indigenous plaintiffs, including the recent child welfare settlement of $40 billion.
“At a time of large budget deficits and mounting debt, the explosive growth of Indigenous spending is expected to continue driven largely by settlement payouts,” said Tom Flanagan, author of the report “Indigenous Spending in Budget 2022.”
“If the latest federal budget is any indicator, there’s no end in sight to Ottawa’s Indigenous spending increases, despite any rhetoric about spending restraint.”
The problem, as described by independent, non-partisan Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux in a report last month, is that while the Trudeau government is spending more than ever on Indigenous services, it’s accomplishing less.
“Over the 2015-16 to 2022-23 period, there has been a significant increase in the amount of financial resources allocated to providing Indigenous Services,” Giroux said, but the increase “did not result in a commensurate increase in the ability of the organizations to achieve the targets they had set for themselves.”
In fact, “the ability of the organizations to achieve the targets … has declined.”
In 2017, Trudeau split the Indigenous and Northern Affairs ministry into two departments — Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada.
Giroux found that five years after the administrative shakeup, the Trudeau government is failing to meet its own targets for improving the lives of Canada’s Indigenous people.
Of 42 performance targets set by Indigenous Services, Giroux told APTN news, “a quarter or less of the results are consistent with the targets the department set.”
This indicates the template for funding Indigenous services is broken.
While some of this massive spending has reduced the number of reserves with unsafe water, most of the tax dollars are disappearing down a black hole to feed a bloated Indigenous affairs bureaucracy.
Three federal auditors-general since 2005 — also, independent, non-partisan officers of Parliament — have described decades of government failures to improve the lives of Canada’s Indigenous people, including those that predate the Trudeau government, as “unacceptable” (Sheila Fraser), “incomprehensible” (Michael Ferguson), and “honestly disheartening” (Karen Hogan).
Ferguson, who passed away in 2019, said in a series of scathing reports from 2016-18 that the federal government managed its Indigenous programs, “to accommodate the people running them, rather than the people receiving the services … the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served”
As a result, Ferguson said: “We don’t see those gaps closing. We don’t even see that they know how to measure those gaps,” and until we do, Canada “will continue to squander the potential and lives of much of its Indigenous population.”
He called it a failure of leadership by federal, provincial and territorial governments, along with Indigenous leaders, with “most of the responsibility falling on the federal government.”