In May Chiefs in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island received a letter from the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) on the Chief Jesse John Simon Case.
The Simon Case, better known by many in the community as the Social Assistance case, began in early 2012, as the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs worked alongside Mi’kmaq and Maliseet Chiefs from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to reject the proposed changes to the on-reserve social assistance program, presented by AANDC. The Chiefs saw that the new policy would have substantial financial impacts for social assistance recipients and would change eligibility requirements and that these changes would greatly impact the budget of Mi’kmaq families, as well as overall community budgets.
Recently Bernard Valcourt, Minister of AANDC, sent a letter to all Chiefs and Councils party to the court case to inform them that as of April 1st, 2016 all communities must introduce the new rates and eligibility requirements. He also referenced the impact study and Terms of Reference document that the Chiefs were working on, stating that AANDC would be abandoning any work done to date on these items. This was despite the fact that his staff had made a commitment to continue this work no matter the outcome of the Federal Court of Appeal decision.
The Chiefs are especially concerned with recent comments to the New Brunswick’s Telegraph-Journal in April where Valcourt stated that “the federal government is cutting welfare rates….to persuade more people in those impoverished communities to take training programs that would help them get jobs.”
The Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in New Brunswick fired back with a follow-up article which stated that “Valcourt’s comments are ‘offensive’” and that the federal government’s decisions “…will cause recipients on reserves to have to make choices between paying their rent and heating bills and eating….[Such an] approach doesn’t work.”
In Valcourt’s interview he stated that the federal government “wants to redirect the savings toward better training and skills programs for Aboriginal people”. The problem with AANDC’s plan is that the money being invested in training will come from the cuts that are being made to the social assistance programs – which will results in cuts to shelter and utility subsidies that the recipients need and rely on.
All thirty First Nations in Atlantic Canada will continue their fight against AANDC’s policy and have most recently applied to the Supreme Court of Canada for a leave to appeal, as an effort to stop the AANDC from introducing these cuts. A decision on whether the highest court in Canada will hear the case is still pending. The Chiefs both in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will be meeting in June in order to discuss the next steps moving forward.
Submitted to the Mi’kmaq Maliseet Nations News for the June 2015 edition.