A $2 million cut to First Nations and Metis programs was among the province's budget reductions announced in today's budget. The 2017-2018 budget for programs that are primarily targeted toward First Nations and Metis people will be $201 million this year, down 0.9 per cent from last year.
“We have heard from the premier loud and clear and I agree with him whole heartedly that we can not kick the can down the road,” said Donna Harpauer, minister responsible for First Nations, Metis and Northern Affairs. “We need to face the reality of revenue prices being down and it affects the revenues that we have as a province and I think this budget has a great way of addressing that in a balanced way so we don’t shock the economy and we still support those most vulnerable and in need.”
The government claims that the financial cut is due to a decrease in casino profits and changes to employment and governance development programs.
“I know that there were tough decisions that had to be made and many of the decisions were not taken lightly by any means because it does affect people across our province,” said Harpauer.
Included are First Nations and Metis Initiatives and Institutions funding within the Ministry of Advanced Education, decreased from $19.4 million to $17.3 million.
“First Nations came in for mention once but they certainly came in for cuts in the actual document itself. Again it’s a set of priorities that don’t speak to what’s most important in this province,” said NDP MLA Warren McCall.
The First Nations and Metis Initiative and Institutions funding supports entrepreneurial innovation for programs that seek to build partnerships with Indigenous communities. The programs must entail one of the four categories: community, family, student accomplishments, or economic expansion. The funding ranges from $15,000 to $45,000, depending on the project type.
“It’s not too long ago that we had the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For a province like Saskatchewan, reconciliation is hugely important and this government has largely ignored the importance of that file,” said McCall.
While some programs are facing budget cuts, others are enjoying a rise in funding. The government has increased funding for provincial Social Services programs by 6.9 per cent resulting to a budget of $1.125 billion, the highest provincial funding in the history of Social Services. However, despite the rise in funding, much of First Nations and Metis programs within Social Services remain unchanged. The only increase in targeted funding is Residential Services, expected to rise from $8.1 million to $12.7 million. The ministry says this is an offset to First Nations and Metis program cuts elsewhere in the budget.
The government states that some necessary cuts have been made in this year’s budget because the government hopes to solve the problem of $1.2 billion deficit in the next three years.
“I guess I am in a place where I am not even sure how this is all going to add up next year because we have seen this government have a track record of saying one thing and then the deficit grows and grows and grows,” said McCall.