Editorial

We all deserve smarter spending

First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa January 11, 2013.  Deep splits emerged in the ranks of Canada's aboriginal movement on Friday, casting doubt on a planned meeting between chiefs and Conservative Prime Minister Harper to discuss a series of native grievances.  REUTERS/Chris Wattie

First Nations protesters march towards Parliament Hill before the start of a meeting between chiefs and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa January 11, 2013. Deep splits emerged in the ranks of Canada's aboriginal movement on Friday, casting doubt on a planned meeting between chiefs and Conservative Prime Minister Harper to discuss a series of native grievances. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The premise is simple enough. How much money does the federal government actually spend on Aboriginal issues?

That's the scope of Mark Milke's latest report for the Fraser Institute. But we're going to take a wild guess that what people take from that information is far from simple.

After all, "Ever Higher: Government spending on Canada's Aboriginals since 1947" is tackling one of the most emotionally charged issues on Canada's domestic policy landscape.

Broadly speaking, there are two opinions on the matter.

First, that Aboriginal Canadians don't receive enough money. This has been voiced by Assembly of First Nations leaders over the years, politicians like Bob Rae and Paul Martin and various activists.

Then there are those -- usually the taxpayer -- who feel like enough money goes towards what they view as an ongoing mess.

But what does "enough" even mean? As Milke notes, "'Enough' is a value-laden term, impossible to quantify empirically." So let's have the numbers do the talking.

From 1946 to 2011, Aboriginal affairs spending increased 99-fold, adjusted for inflation. In 2013 dollars, it grew from $79 million to $7.9 billion.

Per person that's an increase of $922 in 1949 to $9,056 in 2011. A whopping 882% increase.

For comparison's sake, what about spending on all Canadians? To be fair, government in general has grown over the decades.

Federal spending per person has gone from $1,054 to $7,316 in the same period. A 387% increase. Ouch. That in itself is a massive expansion of government.

The study also records Aboriginal spending from provincial governments, Health Canada (like $219.1 million spent in 2011 on dental care that the rest of Canadians don't have access to) and Employment and Social Development Canada.

There are also pockets of funding that weren't covered for various reasons. In other words, the figures about are a conservative estimate.

So, yes, 'enough' is a hard term to define. But if funding has increased by over 800%, you've got to ask why so many rudimentary problems persist on reserves.

Forget about what is being spent. Let's ask how it's being spent.

We're reminded that Deloitte found Attawapiskat didn't have proper records for 80% of the financial transactions analyzed.

We all deserve better.

 


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