Beyond Budget Gimmicks — A Check-up on Canada’s Heart

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There’s a strange little Canadian tradition on budget day: the finance minister’s new shoes. No one seems to know where it comes from, but it’s become a gimmicky little tradition — a minister might wear green shoes when emphasizing care for the environment, or even, like Stockwell Day as Alberta Treasurer, a pair of inline skates.

Beyond the gimmicks and social media posturing, what’s the substance of this budget? Budgets are moral documents about the priorities of our country — what does this budget really say?

Budgets are moral documents about the priorities of our country — what does this budget really say?

There are no great surprises in this plan, which is pretty normal for a mid-term budget. It’s a little tricky to fully address a 369 page budget in a short blog post, so I’ll simply offer a few impressions of the key issues that we at the Centre for Public Dialogue pay attention to: refugees and Indigenous justice and reconciliation.

A couple of things stand out with respect to refugee settlement and integration in this budget:

Much-needed resources for refugee processing

First of all, it’s good to see that the budget attempts to address the costs, or at least some of them, related to the processing of irregular refugees, who cross into Canada from the U.S. at informal points like Roxham Road in Quebec because of the Safe Third Country Agreement. Changes in U.S. immigration policy, and the prospect of increases in deportations from the U.S., led to a dramatic number of irregular crossings into Canada in 2017, and there is a possibility that such crossings will continue this year and into the next several years. Last year, resources have just been shuffled around from existing budgets to respond to these new refugee claimants. This means that the irregular crossings crisis had ripple effects throughout our refugee settlement and integration system. It is refreshing to see dedicated resources in this budget to process these unique cases. Only time will tell if these funds are adequate for the challenge of processing irregular crossings and claims.

Responding to the increased vulnerability of female refugees

Starting in the previous administration, Canada provided protection for Yazidi women and girls who were particularly vulnerable to the genocidal acts of the Islamic State. Helpfully, this budget continues that protection of Yazidi women and girls and goes further by committing to 1000 new Government-Assisted Refugee placements for women and girls from conflict zones around the world. In this sense a gendered budget shows great promise in addressing some of the justice needs of vulnerable women in conflict zones.

Nation to Nation?

#Budget2018 continues a trend that began in 2016: increasing financial commitments to Indigenous Justice and Reconciliation. In the 2015 election campaign the Liberals promised to pursue renewed relationships with Indigenous peoples under a Nation to Nation commitment.

“Nation to nation” is an approach for which Indigenous people have advocated for many years. When the treaties were signed, they were signed by equal partners: they were nation to nation agreements. After this, however, Canada interpreted the treaties unilaterally or, in many cases, disregarded them all together. When Indigenous people speak about “nation to nation,” they’re calling us back to the spirit of the original treaties, calling us back to a relationship between equals, rather than a relationship where one member of the relationship calls all the shots.

When Indigenous people speak about “nation to nation” relationships, they’re calling us back to a relationship between equals.

These are not just words — they describe a fundamental change in the way that the Government relates to Indigenous nations. And a shift like this takes resources — $8.4 billion in 2016; $3.4 billion in 2017; and $4.75 billion in the 2018 budget for a total of $16.55 billion. As these important financial commitments have been announced, Indigenous communities and leaders have often noted that noble sentiments and promises have not always translated into action.

Making sure Indigenous children are safe and supported in their communities

For instance, the Government has failed for 2 years to comply with a legally-binding Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling to provide equal funding for Child Welfare Services in Indigenous Communities. The Tribunal found that the Government had been racially discriminating against thousands of First Nations children.  

Jane Philpott, the Minister of Indigenous Services, has acknowledged this failure and promised to do better. This budget doesn’t sugarcoat the reality; it bluntly acknowledges the over-representation of Indigenous children in foster care systems (see figure 3.1 p. 131 of the budget for a powerful visual). This honesty is important, refreshing, and must be backed by action. In this budget, the government promised to “ensure that Indigenous Children are safe and supported in their communities,” and this promise is backed up by $1.4 billion over the next 6 years. Time will tell if this new commitment is adequate to the long-term challenges in Indigenous child welfare.

A huge kudos to Cindy Blackstock and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society for all their work pushing for this change — and to the dozens of you who spoke up through a recent action alert!

A huge kudos to Cindy Blackstock and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society for all their work pushing for this change — and to the dozens of you who spoke up through a recent action alert! This 6 year funding commitment means that we need to keep up the political pressure for follow-through — both by this government and the next. Our work for equity is not finished yet, but this is an important victory.

Honouring Indigenous rights

On February 14 the Prime Minister made a major speech in the House of Commons committing to the development of a new reconciliation framework with Indigenous peoples that emphasizes recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights. This is part of the Government’s commitment to Nation to Nation relationships and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The hope is to have this important framework in place before the next election (fall 2019) and the budget provides $189 million for Indigenous community engagement in the process. It is good to see this serious financial commitment. It is clear, however, that Indigenous communities and leaders have concerns about the speed of this process. The roots of colonialism run deep — there are no quick fixes here. Re-building a healthy and trusting nation to nation relationship will take generations. We need both bureaucratic fixes and deep heart change. As Senator Murray Sinclair says, “Let’s climb!”

We need both bureaucratic fixes and deep heart change.

There is much more to be understood and explored in Budget 2018, but there are some good things to celebrate (and watch) here. As these initial impressions deepen, we at the Centre for Public Dialogue will continue to encourage Christian citizens to engage with their elected representatives on these and other justice and reconciliation issues. No matter what this budget or the next says, we will continue to advocate for structures and budgets that allow all of God’s image-bearers to thrive.

No matter what this budget or the next says, we will continue to advocate with you for structures and budgets that allow all of God’s image-bearers to thrive.

Check out our action centre for more info on these and other important issues for Christian citizens in Canada today. What do you think Budget 2018 says about Canada's heart? Send your reflections to publicdialogue@crcna.org or contact us through our social media accounts.

This post was originally shared on Do Justice, the shared blog of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue and the Office of Social Justice. 

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