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

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.

A graphic provides a breakdown of various cost estimates.
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.

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.

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.

WATCH | Indigenous Services minister reacts to auditor general’s report:

There’s ‘a huge way to go’ on Indigenous housing, says minister

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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

At the time, federal Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu stood by the deadline, but her department wouldn’t say whether it feels the government is on track. Hajdu wouldn’t answer directly when asked again last month.

“With a goal of closing the infrastructure gap in particular on housing by 2030, it does sharpen the mind of all partners, and I think it’s important to have those goals,” she said at a news conference following the audit.

CBC Indigenous has reached out Hajdu’s office for comment on the report.

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