Trudeau’s Indigenous spending boost is part reality, part shell game

A budgetary mugs game spilled into Senate Finance committee this December about spending increases for Indigenous services and staffing two new departments.
A budgetary mugs game spilled into Senate Finance committee this December about spending increases for Indigenous services and staffing two new departments.

Much of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s boasted spending increases to Indigenous services, projected to surpass $18 billion in next year’s budget–50 percent more since he took office in 2015–is largesse being shifted from Health Canada.

As part of Trudeau’s policy of dividing Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada into two separate ministries that began three years ago, more than a quarter of Health Canada staff are migrating to a new Indigenous Services department, while the treaty side at a nascent Crown-Indigenous Relations ministry is scheduled to shrink.

And so this shell game of staffing and spending spilled into Senate Finance committee earlier this December, as Alberta Senator Scott Tannas expressed concern that any new money might be directed to more services, rather than staffing.

“If you add (each new department’s budget) up together, it’s $18 billion dollars,” he said of projected the spending under two separate departments.

“That’s a lot of extra money and I want to make sure that that gets into the hands of Indigenous people, but doesn’t support a bloated bureaucracy here in Ottawa.”

Asked for a “head count”, Annie Boudreau, Chief Finances, Results and Delivery Officer for Crown-Indigenous Relations (CIRNAC) said there were 1,959 “full-time equivalencies” and 6,356, “what’s now over 8000 people,” Tannas remarked.

According to CIRNAC spokesperson Marie-Claude Thérien, the transition cost $60 million to move nearly 2,500 First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) employees, mandated by Health Canada, with 270 additional department staff under the umbrella of Indigenous Services.

“There has not been a significant additional increase in the administrative costs of either department as a result of the dissolution,” said Thérien in an email to The Post Millennial.

Indigenous Services staffing will increased by 1,400 FTEs between 2017 and 2019 while the number of Crown-Indigenous employees shrank by more than 700 for a net increase of 665 new staff.

Thérein provided vague answers to questions on the value of budget figures for FNIHB, and Health Canada services previously allocated to Health Canada, but now under Indigenous Services purview.

“In 2019-20 based on proposed authority, CIRNAC (old and new department) and ISC internal services is $390M. This represents 2.0% of program dollars or 2.0% of total dollars,” said Thérien of staffing costs.

Therien also noted  2020-21, the government has promised spend an additional $1.2 billion over three years on what it calls “closing the gap” for the implementation of Jordan’s Principle giving better access to  health, social and educational services.