Politics

First Nations chiefs from Ontario want proof 2% funding cap is gone

A group of First Nations chiefs from Ontario are concerned with a new agreement between the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government that would see a long-standing two per cent cap on funding for First Nations programs lifted.

'Funding needs to flow immediately. Not 2 months or 2 years from now,' says Regional Chief Isadore Day

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day says it isn't clear when First Nations communities will have access to new funds promised by the federal Liberal government. (CBC)

A group of First Nations chiefs from Ontario are raising concerns about an agreement between the Assembly of First Nations and the federal government that would see a long-standing two per cent cap on funding for First Nations programs lifted.

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett signed the new memorandum of understanding on Tuesday as AFN chiefs kicked off their annual general assembly in Niagara Falls, Ont.

"Not only did the AFN executive not receive time to review this MOU, but many chiefs are still uncertain about the need for an MOU to develop a new fiscal relationship [with the federal government]," said Regional Chief Isadore Day on Wednesday.

"Has the two per cent cap been removed, or will it be removed at the end of the term of this MOU, on Dec. 31, 2017?" Day asked. "There are a lot of questions and concerns that need to be answered as soon as possible."

But Bellegarde said there is no need for confusion as the MOU is simply a formal process to jump-start the government's new fiscal relationship with First Nations peoples.

"It's an MOU to get the work done. We all want to move beyond the two per cent funding cap, which we've had in place for over 20 years — which I've always stated is a cap on potential, a cap on growth and doesn't meet the needs," the chief said in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network's Power & Politics Wednesday.

Perry Bellegarde on forging a new fiscal relationship between Indigenous Canadians and the government. 7:23

The Ontario chiefs decided during a caucus meeting Wednesday morning to send a letter to Bennett seeking further clarification, despite her assurances.

"We have lifted the two per cent cap on funding with our historic commitment of $8.4 billion in our first budget," Bennett said in her remarks to the chiefs Tuesday.

"Now that the budget has passed Parliament, I am happy to report this funding will begin to flow into your communities and I know you've been waiting," she said.

But on Wednesday, Day said it wasn't clear when First Nations communities would have access to the new funds.

"The funding needs to flow immediately. Not two months or two years from now," he said.

"We also need to be informed that the two per cent cap is in fact gone, which includes a cap on base funding. This is an election commitment that must be realized now, not through an MOU," Day said.

Ontario Chief Isadore Day questions whether the federal government will remove the 2 % fudning cap or not. 1:42

NDP MP Charlie Angus said he is concerned the federal government isn't being entirely forthcoming with First Nations given that some $800 million in new funding is scheduled to flow after the next federal election.

"I find it very bizarre that the minister would sign an MOU promising to look at ways to lift the two per cent cap if the two per cent cap on base funding had been lifted," Angus said in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.

Angus asked Bennett about the promise to lift the cap at a parliamentary committee last month.

Bennett and a senior departmental official assured Angus that the "money was flowing."

"I wouldn't waste your time on this because the two per cent cap is gone," Bennett said on June 16.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, left, and Regional Chief Isadore Day sign a new protocol agreement to strengthen the relationship between their two groups in Niagara Falls, Ont., on Wednesday. (CBC)

The AFN and the Chiefs of Ontario also signed a new agreement on Wednesday that according to Day "will serve to open the lines of communications and strengthen our relationship."

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