AFN lays off staff after losing health funding

The Assembly of First Nations says it is forced to lay off staff after Health Canada reduced its funding by 40 per cent, making it the latest aboriginal group to feel the impact of budget cuts at the federal agency.

Health Canada cuts $15 million from funds given to dozens of aboriginal groups

The Assembly of First Nations says it is forced to lay off staff after Health Canada reduced its funding by 40 per cent, making it the latest aboriginal group to feel the impact of budget cuts at the federal agency.

The AFN said in a statement Thursday the cuts will result in staff layoffs and would impact "its supportive and facilitative role in informing the development of health policies and programs for First Nations." While AFN is not a direct deliverer of health services, it provides support to other organizations. 

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has said her priority is to protect primary health care services. (The Canadian Press)

Reductions on a regional level or the impact of the cuts to AFN's other departments are not yet known, the organization said.

Employees at the organization, many at its headquarters in Ottawa, began receiving layoff notices Thursday. The AFN, which employs about 113 people, would not reveal how many jobs would be cut nor the dollar figure of the cuts.

Health Canada was asked to make $200.6 million in cuts over three years as part of the federal budget's review of departmental spending.

$15M cut from dozens of organizations

Health Canada's First Nation and Inuit Health department accounts for about $2.2 billion, or about two-thirds of the agency's budget, said Health Canada director of communications Steve Outhouse.

He said as part of the cost reduction, Health Canada has cut $15 million annually to a few dozen aboriginal groups who receive grant funding but who do not provide "primary front-line health care services."

Outhouse said the agency defines front-line health care services to include nurses, doctors, health centres and primary services like vaccinations.

The organizations were informed in the last week, he said.

NAHO won't be resurrected

After Health Canada cut its funding entirely, the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO) said last week it would be closing its doors after 12 years operating as a research hub for aboriginal health.

The Native Women's Association of Canada said it was also losing all its funding from Health Canada, and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said its funding for health programs and research was being cut by 40 per cent.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement the NAHO was cut in part because of "governance issues" it was unable to resolve and said the organization had lost the support of aboriginal organizations.

The Royal College of Physicians and surgeons said in a statement it wanted the government to create a new organization to continue on NAHO's work, saying addressing substance abuse, addictions, suicide, high rates of diabetes and infectious diseases required "a dedicated base of knowledge from which communities can draw."

But Outhouse said there were no plans to resurrect the organization. He said the Institute of Aboriginal People's Health — one of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research — already received $30 million annually for doing similar work.

The ministry said the other two organizations were cut because they did not deliver front-line health-care services to communities.