Finance Minister talks First Nations investment during Vancouver visit

VANCOUVER – Canada’s finance minister has wrapped up a visit to the West Coast by stressing the importance of the Liberal government’s investments in indigenous peoples across the country.

In a speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade on Wednesday, Bill Morneau repeatedly used the term “completely unacceptable” to describe the prevalence of unclean drinking water on First Nations reserves, and the poor education opportunities and low labour force-participation rates of indigenous people in Canada.

Morneau said the federal government’s move to invest $8.4 billion in the country’s aboriginal population over the next five years will profoundly change the situation for what he described as the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population.

“This is about better graduation rates, more opportunity, better workforce participation,” he told a sold-out crowd in downtown Vancouver.

Morneau emphasized the importance of strategic investments in addressing the imminent predicament posed by Canada’s aging labour force.

“We’re facing a real challenge in this country with demographics,” he said. “So if we can in any way increase workforce participation, that helps us to deal with that very real challenge.”

The minister’s comments come a day after the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued a damning report ordering Ottawa to take immediate action to ensure First Nations children can access necessary services without getting caught in red tape.

In a landmark ruling in January, the tribunal ordered Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada to remove restrictions on child-welfare rules that complicate how First Nations youth receive crucial services.

“We want to make a real difference in the possibility of education for indigenous people in this country. We’re going to need to work together to do that,” Morneau said on Wednesday.

“And we know we need to start in that with a sense of mutual respect in our dealings.”

Morneau pointed to a $3.5-billion investment announced in budget 2016 for indigenous education, which is broken down into $2.6 billion for developing programing and $900 million for building infrastructure.

That’s in addition to the $2 billion earmarked for combating boil-water advisories in First Nations communities across the country.

“We want to know that there’s no child in this country that doesn’t have access to clean drinking water,” he said. “That’s something that we’re going to achieve.”