The federal government must protect "key areas" of funding for aboriginal communities such as education and housing, one of the government's top MPs on the portfolio says following pre-budget consultation meetings with community stakeholders.  

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC's Radio The House, Greg Rickford, parliamentary secretary the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, would not confim whether the department would be subjected to spending cuts.

"I'm not going to comment on whether there's a 10 per cent or zero percent out there," Rickford said.

But when asked by host Evan Solomon whether the government has drawn a line around certain spending areas, Rickford said Ottawa has received a clear message from First Nations leaders.

"I think that what we have to understand, and we got this from the budget consultations, is that there are key areas that we must protect, whether it's skills training for specific industries, education [and] obviously housing," Rickford said.  

Government officials have been careful to downplay expectations about the outcome of next Tuesday's Crown-First Nations meeting in Ottawa.

ATTAWAPISKAT | An update from Minister Duncan's office:

  • To date, eight of the 22 modular homes have been delivered to Moosonee, Ont. The remaining 14 units have been shipped to Val dOr, Que., and will be transported to Moosonee.
  • The retrofit of the Attawapiskat Healing Lodge is complete. Any of the 25 families who have been living in temporary shelter can move in. At this point 11 individuals have done so.
  • Work is already underway to repair the multi-family unit ATCO trailers which means that other residents will have a more comfortable place to live.
  • In a normal year the winter roads are usually open for about two months, from mid-January to mid-March

Rickford spent the past week talking economy with aboriginal stakeholders in St.John's, Montreal, Vancouver, and Whitehorse as part of the government's cross-country pre-budget consultation.

"Those are the inputs from First Nations communities, and absolutely, we have to understand that before we pursue any other budget consideration," said Rickford, who will be attending Tuesday's meeting.

On Friday, the office for the minister leading Tuesday's gathering confirmed that John Duncan and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Atleo had spoken by telephone earlier in the week.

Duncan's office also confirmed that in addition to the prime minister's presence, 10 federal ministers and other high-ranking  officals will also attend the meeting.

And while Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will not be attending, Treasury Board President Tony Clement will be.

Clement is the minister in charge of finding up to $8 billion in savings annually through the government's strategic and operating review.

All 67 government departments were asked to submit proposals for cuts of five per cent to 10 per cent.