Federal budget proposes funds for reconciliation, consultation on projects with Indigenous Peoples

By Cristin Schmitz

Law360 Canada (March 29, 2023, 4:15 PM EDT) -- The 2023 federal budget pledges that the minority Liberal government will unveil by the end of the year “a concrete plan to improve the efficiency” of the arduous regulatory approval process for major projects, while also allocating more than $19 million over the next five years to help Indigenous peoples and other northerners participate in the environmental and regulatory assessments of major projects in the North.

The federal budget for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024, introduced in the House of Commons March 28 by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, notes it is “essential” that there be “timely completion” of major projects, such as clean electricity and the mining of critical minerals, that are needed to build Canada’s “clean economy.”

“As part of its clean growth strategy, the government is making it a priority to expedite major project reviews while maintaining strong regulatory standards,” the budget says, in announcing that its impending plan to “get major projects done” will include clarifying and reducing timelines, mitigating inefficiencies and improving engagement and partnerships.

In that context, the government announced that starting in 2023-24 it will provide $11.4 million over three years to the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada “to engage with Indigenous communities and to update the federal guidelines for federal officials to fulfill the Crown’s duty to consult Indigenous peoples and accommodate impacts on their rights.”

The government said this will support Ottawa’s implementation of the federal United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and "provide more clarity" on how the federal government will proceed to ensure an effective and efficient "whole-of-government approach" to consultation and accommodation.

Under the heading “advancing reconciliation,” the Liberal government proposes a number of new measures and investments in Budget 2023, including:

  • $5 million in 2023/24 to Indigenous Services Canada to support the co-development “with Indigenous partners” of an “economic reconciliation framework ... that will increase economic opportunities for Indigenous Peoples, communities and businesses.”
  • $8.7 million in 2023-24 to Natural Resources Canada “to support deeper engagements with Indigenous partners, including Indigenous rights-holders, toward the development of the National Benefits-Sharing Framework.”
  • Loans will be provided from the existing funding envelope of the Canada Infrastructure Bank to Indigenous communities to support them in buying equity stakes in infrastructure projects in which the bank is also investing.
  • $35.3 million over three years, starting in 2023-24, to federal departments to co-develop with the Lands Advisory Board a new First-Nations-led National Land Registry that will provide communities in the First National Land Management “with more opportunities to realize the economic benefits arising from local control over their lands.”
  • $96.8 million over five years, starting in 2023-24, and $20.4 million ongoing, to help Indigenous families access information about their missing and murdered family members and to enhance victim services to support their healing. Existing funding would be renewed and expanded to include support for families of 2SLGBTQI+ Indigenous victims who are men. Building on $2.2 billion provided in Budget 2021, an additional $29 million is proposed for several measures to accelerate progress on implementing the Federal Pathway to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQIA+ People.
  • $171 million in 2022-23 to Indigenous Services Canada “to ensure First Nations children continue to receive the support they need through Jordan’s Principle” i.e. that in a jurisdictional dispute over services to a First Nations child between Canada, a province, a territory, or between government departments, the government department of first contact pays for the service and can seek reimbursement from the other government or department after the child has received the service.”
  • $2.8 billion, as part of the Gottfriedson Band Class Settlement Agreement, to establish a trust to support healing, wellness, education, heritage language and commemoration activities, as well as legislative amendments to exclude the income and gains of the trust from taxation.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for Law360 Canada, please contact Cristin Schmitz at cristin.schmitz@lexisnexis.ca or call 613-820-2794.