AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde announces major changes giving First Nations greater financial control

REGINA—As First Nations leaders, elders, women and youth from across Canada gathered in Regina Tuesday for the opening of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Annual General Assembly, AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde and federal Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, announced that First Nations will have more control of financial resources from one year to the next.

“The changes we’re announcing today are important first steps in building stronger First Nations, better communities for our families and a stronger economy for all Canadians,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “First Nations will soon be able to carry forward funds from year to year, which means they will have more flexibility and independence to plan better and spend better-for better results. Second, we are going to work together on a new approach to funding essential services for First Nations-like fire and emergency services, and potable drinking water. The current policy is inadequate, outdated and inequitable,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “Our goal is ensuring First Nations governments can provide these services for their people based on the real needs  of our communities and families. The changes we’re announcing today benefit First Nations and all Canadians and show the value of working together to find solutions.”

The changes are the result of changes put forward through the Canada-First Nations New Fiscal Relations Working Group, established under the AFN-INAC memorandum of understanding (MOU) on a new fiscal relationship.

“These new changes simply make sense. These are the first steps in our fiscal relations work and I am  encouraged that it is already benefitting our people and governments. We have momentum for real progress and change,” said the National Chief.

The first change allows First Nations to carry over funding from year to year. Often, First Nations  had to return funds not because they weren’t needed but because there was not enough time to spend them properly, the AFN release noted. The problem is compounded by the fact that First Nations often receive funds late in the fiscal year, increasing the pressure to spend. The change announced Tuesday reduces these problems and will also increase the certainty of resources for multi-year programs and projects. This change will take effect in the new fiscal year beginning April 1, 2018.

The second change deals with the federal government’s Operations and Maintenance funding policy. Under the policy, the federal government funds only a portion of the estimated costs of essential government services like emergency services or potable drinking water and First Nations are expected to fund the remaining portion, the AFN explains. Many First Nations are already under-funded and cannot cover these costs so these essential services cannot be provided. This can cause critical problems in far too many communities.

The Canada-First Nations new Fiscal Relations Working Group will work on a new approach to ensure all First Nations can provide these services and provide options in a  joint report to be presented in December 2017. This is part of the work to identify options and opportunities for new fiscal relations between Canada and First Nations that are appropriate to a government to government relationship.