As Finance Minister Bill Morneau prepares his maiden budget, the federal government is under tremendous pressure to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to repairing the long-standing rift with indigenous communities.
Justice Murray Sinclair shakes hands with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Report in December. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
The Liberals, who have made sweeping commitments including lifting a two-per-cent cap on funding for reserve programs and services, also face the challenge of following through when the fiscal landscape is more complicated than anticipated during the election campaign.
"This is their first budget as government and I think that, as such, they're probably going to have to deal with what they've got in terms of the cards that they're playing with and then look at a more long-term road map," Sinclair said.
Sinclair noted, however, that failing to invest will end up costing far more.
The federal government needs to find a way to spend money wisely and effectively rather than constantly moving from crisis to crisis, he said.
"If they dealt with that trauma and pain in a proper way, coming out of that experience, the amount of money that they are spending on those areas would probably be reduced in the long term," Sinclair said.
Sinclair, the first aboriginal judge appointed in Manitoba, spent six years documenting the dark legacy of Canada's residential schools — a church-run, government-funded assimilation program that existed in Canada from the 1870s to 1996.
94 TRC recommendations
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, borne out of the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, issued 94 calls to action at the end of its mandate touching on a host of problems including health and education.
The Grits have promised to implement all suggestions presented by the commission, though economists warn that the recommendations have not been fully costed.
The government will likely need a more thorough analysis of the financial implications, Sinclair noted, but he said costs will only balloon if Canada doesn't take a completely different approach to issues like aboriginal incarceration, child welfare and health.
Last week, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found the federal government has underfunded child welfare services on reserve — a problem that will take at least $200-million more a year to remedy, according to First Nations advocate Cindy Blackstock.
"If they dealt with that trauma and pain in a proper way, coming out of that experience, the amount of money that they are spending on those areas would probably be reduced in the long term."
"From the government's perspective, it probably is the shot across the bow that is going to cause them to develop an approach to funding on reserve that ... require them to be more consistent in their approach to funding," Sinclair said.
In January, Morneau indicated helping aboriginal people will be a "high priority" in the upcoming budget.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said he wants to see the fine print soon.
"(Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau has said that he's going to implement each and every one of them," Mulcair said.
"I'm more than willing to give him that chance but again the budget has got to start providing the money to do that."
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