By Jennifer Graham
THE CANADIAN PRESS Updated Wed July 26 2017
REGINA- First Nations leaders say they’ll be able to do more projects and build more homes because of changes that give them more control over financial resources.
The federal government announced Tuesday that First Nations will now be able to carry funding from year-to-year, instead of having to return money if a project wasn’t completed within a fiscal year.
Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde said the problem was that projects often didn’t get approved until late in a fiscal year.
“There used to always be the requirement, but you know the monies never got out fast enough and everybody would panic that you have resources that have to be expended by the end of March or you lose them or you have to send them back,” Bellegarde said after making the announcement at the AFN’s annual meeting.
“The monies coming out for housing came out so late, you can’t finish your housing programs, so now you’re going to be able to carry them over to the next fiscal year so that work can continue.”
Bellegarde called the old situation “March madness,” but said communities won’t have to scramble now.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said the old process left communities in a situation where projects could be caught in a cycle of starting and stopping.
“They can start the project and then know that if it’s not done by the following spring, that they still have the money to carry on and finish the project,” said Bennett, who also addressed the AFN on Tuesday.
“There’s no question these are first steps, but these were real irritants that we can get out of the way.”
Ottawa will also work with First Nations on a new approach to funding essential services, such as fire, emergency services, schools, and water and waste treatment systems, she said.
Both the government and the AFN said the current policy, which was introduced almost 20 years ago, is outdated, and does not reflect First Nations needs.
“The requirement to find other sources of funding to ensure that you have clean drinking water or emergency management services, it means that some communities go without these essential services,” said Bellegarde.
“This policy…does real harm and it’s holding First Nations back.”