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Last week marked one of the most important moments of my year. No, it wasn’t the first day of spring, though that was a highlight. It was the unveiling of Canada's federal budget for 2017.

Perhaps this sounds less than thrilling to you, but let me tell you why this is a key moment for me, in my work with the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue. Our use of money reflects our key priorities (and key compromises), and this is no different for the government than it is for our own households. Budgets help us take our pulse; they are snapshots in time that tell us important things about a government’s priorities. So it’s important to pay attention to the annual budget political rituals to encourage accountability to promises and commitment to justice and reconciliation.

Bearing witness to justice and reconciliation is Gospel work.

If a budget is a snapshot in time, in this age of mass media and instant polling it’s also a picture of what a government thinks citizens are concerned about and looking for. For citizens this is an opportunity to lead by bearing witness to justice and reconciliation in our reflections on a budget and in all our conversations with elected representatives. Bearing witness in this way is Gospel work. What follows are some impressions on Budget 2017 and thoughts on how you and I as Christian citizens can bear witness about it.

Ending the Gap: Indigenous Justice and Reconciliation

It is unconscionable that in this post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission era, when we know full well the sins and impacts of the residential school era and the gaps in funding for Indigenous communities, that these unjust funding gaps continue to burden these communities. Budget 2016 included historic commitments that were a helpful start to addressing these chronic funding and services gaps. This new budget brings in an additional $3.4 billion in new money to address post-secondary education, health, employment and infrastructure needs – this is all promising.

However, there is a disappointing lack of specific information in the budget how the government intends to comply with a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that gaps in First Nation child welfare funding are discriminatory. Citizens can bear witness to the need to end the injustice of the child welfare gap by supporting the I am a Witness Campaign. It’s also important to recognize that ending the gap and turning towards tangible reconciliation requires both immediate and long-term commitments. In this respect it is good to see that many of the funding commitments in these last two budgets are spread over multiple years (as many as 11). This requires consistent implementation by successive governments –we need to keep our eyes open as citizens to see that these promises are honoured.  

Citizens can bear witness to the need to end the injustice of the child welfare gap by supporting the I am a Witness Campaign.

It’s critical to note that money and funding are not the foundation of Indigenous justice and reconciliation. Broken relationships and broken trust are at the root of the need for reconciliation. So it’s promising that this government has committed to pursuing Nation to Nation relationships with Indigenous peoples. This approach to Nation to Nation relationships does not sound as dramatic as billons in new funding but it’s deeply important. And good things are happening on this front: a federal review of all law and policy related to Indigenous people intended to decolonize law and policy; and the promise of new frameworks for regular collaboration between key Indigenous organizations and the federal government. Both of these important Nation to Nation initiatives are funded in Budget 2017. Citizens can encourage these initiatives and bear witness to their importance in conversations in their communities and with their leaders.

Refugee Settlement & Religious Persecution:

Intense public and media attention to the international refugee crisis in 2015-16 led to historic Canadian efforts to welcome refugees in 2016. That noble effort is now followed by the ongoing challenge of settlement and integration that many church folks involved in sponsorship are well aware of this spring.

We’re pleased to see that Budget 2017 puts real money behind a previous commitment to settle Yazidi refugees in Canada. Yazidis are the target of brutal persecution by ISIS so providing refuge is the right thing to do. As Christian citizens we can celebrate this effort to protect Yazidis fleeing from persecution in conversation with our elected representatives.

As Christian citizens we can celebrate this effort to protect Yazidis fleeing from persecution in conversation with our elected representatives.

Budget 2017 lines up with previously announced details on refugee settlement levels, meaning that there is no new money, and no enhancements of Canada’s resettlement programs for vulnerable refugees beyond the Middle East. And while the budget provides some additional legal aid funds for asylum seekers, there is no evidence of efforts to address the safety and processing challenges that come with the recent spike in irregular border crossings from refugees in the U.S. Read more about this challenging issue, and bear witness using our action alert calling for review of the Safe Third Country Agreement.

There are no stunning surprises in Budget 2017. Many of the funding commitments made in this budget and the last one are for the future – and beyond the 2019 end of the Trudeau government’s mandate. Long-term vision is important but pushing critical commitments beyond this mandate means that the budget commitments are really aspirations that will need additional effort for implementation. Citizens can encourage accountability to these good aspirations.

Another concern is the deep fiscal challenges of this budget. The Liberal platform was ambitious on a wide range of fronts and they’ve begun backing off some of those promises because of a lack of financial resources. Nevertheless, significant budget deficits remain. An ambitious program requires financial resources – resources that include tax measures and re-allocations in government priorities. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as saying “let’s increase taxes & make cuts” to make the financial room for programs and manage deficits. Tax and fiscal policy are always complex in a globalized economy, and even more so with the economic and political unpredictability south of the 49th parallel. Citizens can encourage a needed dialogue on responsible taxes and deficits by bringing up these difficult subjects at the door in campaigns, and in regular conversations with Members of Parliament.

As Christian citizens, we all have an opportunity and responsibility to bear witness to justice and reconciliation in conversations in our communities.

As citizens, we all have an opportunity and responsibility to bear witness to justice and reconciliation in conversations in our communities, and in dialogue with our elected representatives. If you have questions about how to do this for Budget 2017 or something else, we invite you to contact us at the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue: 613.686.6298 or [email protected]. We’re here to support you!

P.S. Keep your eyes open for a new advocacy training to equip you and your congregation to connect with your elected representatives…coming soon!

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