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$349B needed now to close infrastructure gap by 2030, Assembly of First Nations says in report | CBC News

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The cost of closing the on-reserve infrastructure gap will top half a trillion dollars by 2040 unless the federal government acts now, the Assembly of First Nations says, joining a chorus of voices warning Ottawa is at risk of missing its targets.

Canada must invest $349.2 billion now to ensure First Nations and non-Indigenous communities have access to similar infrastructure by 2030, the national advocacy organization said in a report released Tuesday.

Closing that gap by 2030 is one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s signature pledges on reconciliation — a promise the assembly’s leader said the Liberal government now risks breaking.

“Without immediate and decisive action, First Nations are at risk of facing more than 60 more years of inadequate access to infrastructure, housing and digital connectivity,” National Chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak said in a statement released Tuesday.

The assembly, which represents more than 600 First Nations chiefs from across the country, co-developed the report with Indigenous Services Canada and consulting firm BTY Group.

The Closing the Infrastructure Gap by 2030 report encompasses housing, schools, water plants, roads and other assets, including ports, wharves, clinics and digital connectivity.

The Assembly of First Nations estimates the cost of closing the infrastructure gap at nearly $350 billion, of which $135.1 billion is linked to housing costs. (Assembly of First Nations)

It ties the enormous deficit to decades of underfunding, federal failures and unfair distribution of wealth. The report also serves as a comprehensive budget proposal, and promises the infusion of $349.2 billion would create more than 3.2 million jobs and boost Canada’s GDP by more than $1 trillion. 

Woodhouse Nepinak said the government now has all the data it needs and can no longer make excuses for underfunding and neglect, since the report bears Indigenous Services Canada’s seal of approval.

“Promises have been made and must now be kept,” she said.

Coming out of a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill following the report’s release, the minister of Indigenous Services stood by the 2030 target. 

“That’s certainly still the goal,” Patty Hajdu told reporters. 

But to reach it, all orders of the government and the private sector must work together, she said, adding that in some cases there are practical challenges aside from money that may rule out infrastructure work right now.

“This is a big, big lift,” she said.

“It’s not just obviously the investment of money.”

Nevertheless, the assembly forecasts the cost will only grow without action in the coming years due to economic pressures including inflation, construction costs and fuel prices coupled with the continued deterioration of already substandard infrastructure.

“Our report shows that, due to the government of Canada’s inaction, the timeline to close the gap is expected to be delayed to the year 2040 and the cost to close the First Nations infrastructure and housing gap in 2040 will increase to $527.9 billion,” Woodhouse Nepinak said. 

The estimate does not discuss the infrastructure gap facing Métis and Inuit. 

In a report of its own, national organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami estimates it would take $75.1 billion spread over 35 years to close the gap in Inuit regions.

Report follows federal housing announcements

The assembly’s report lands just a week before the tabling of the 2024 budget, and follows a string of Trudeau-government pre-budget announcements aimed at improving affordability and increasing housing supply in municipalities. 

However, some of the proposed policies have drawn fire from some premiers who accuse the prime minister of reaching into areas of provincial jurisdiction such as municipal zoning and building regulation.

Reserves, on the other hand, are under federal jurisdiction. Last month Auditor General Karen Hogan lambasted the Trudeau government for failing to meet on-reserve housing needs.

WATCH | Brett Forester reports on infrastructure gap:

AFN says $349B needed to close infrastructure gap by 2030

Canada must invest $349.2 billion now to ensure First Nations and non-Indigenous communities have access to similar infrastructure by 2030, the Assembly of First Nations said in a report released Tuesday.

In a scathing report, Hogan found Ottawa is at high risk of not closing the housing gap by 2030 and has, through outdated funding formulas, already shortchanged First Nations in the three Prairie provinces out of $274.3 million collectively.

Calling these findings deeply troubling, the national chief said, “It’s clear the government of Canada is falling short of its 2030 deadline on providing adequate housing, which is a human right, and First Nations deserve more than failed promises.”

In an analysis of its own released last year, the federal New Democratic Party said the government is on pace to miss the 2030 target by between 58 and 141 years

NDP MP Niki Ashton, who represents a northern Manitoba riding with several First Nations, called the reported underfunding of housing in First Nations in her province “the stuff of lawsuits.” She described the assembly’s report as damning.

“The Liberal government has talked a good talk on reconciliation. They’ve talked about how the relationship with Indigenous peoples is the most important relationship for them,” Ashton said. 

“And yet what do we have to show for it? An almost $350-billion infrastructure gap. That is the opposite of reconciliation.”

A spokesperson for Hajdu defended the Liberal record, pointing to the 105 long-term, on-reserve boil water advisories in place under the Harper Conservatives, which the Liberals have reduced to 28.

“Undoing centuries of colonialism and discriminatory funding cannot be done overnight, but we are making progress,” wrote spokesperson Jennifer Kozelj.

The Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

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