First Nations Statistical Institute
In its March 2012 budget, Canada’s federal government announced that it was cutting all funding for the First Nations Statistical Institute (FNSI). According to the budget, the FNSI will see its federal funding halved in 2012-2013 and then eliminated in 2013-2014.
FNSI gathers crucial information on First Nations who are less represented in government data. A March 2012 evaluation indicated that the FNSI “has built the internal capacity” and “established the partnerships and networks to achieve results.” Many First Nations communities do not normally participate in the census or any other data collection. According to FNSI’s Chief Operating Officer, Keith Conn, “there are gaps in the urban populations for First Nations, Metis and Inuit people that are either missed or excluded from the survey processes,” he added “so it was important to provide data to measure progress.”
This important function, however, did not protect the FNSI from the wide-reaching institutional funding cuts announced by the Conservative government in its March 2012 budget. By 2014, FNSI’s $5-million in federal funding will be eliminated.
According to one report, FNSI was in the process of implementing 24 to 25 projects across Canada with First Nations communities and organizations. Conn said FNSI will continue to “provide certain core services” and is reportedly preparing the transition by collaborating with three ‘sister organizations.’
At the same time, he also expressed serious concerns for the future of the data itself. Some of the information is private to First Nations communities, but Conn would still like the public information to be accessible. A suitable alternative would be “an established First Nations-centred organization, such as an academic institution.” In the meantime, FNSI’s operations and projects will be wound down over 2012 and its 23 staff laid off.
With the cuts to FNSI, First Nations communities will continue to suffer from incomplete statistical data on educational, social housing and labour force needs. Reacting to the government’s decision, Conn said he was “taken aback by the announcement” but also saw it in the context of a “a tsunami of budget cuts for organizations that are focused on research and data.”
Taken together with cutbacks to Statistics Canada, including the abolition of the mandatory long form census, the announced end of the Aboriginal Statistical Training Program, and the data-gathering project of Sisters in Spirit, Canadians have lost or will lose important statistical data on First Nations communities and other Aboriginal peoples.
- 2006: Under the federal government’s First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act, the First Nations Statistical Institute is created.
- 2012: The government’s federal budget provides that the First Nations Statistical Institute will have its funding reduced by half and then completely by 2013-2014.
Role or Position
The First Nations Statistical Institute (FNSI) is a First Nations-led Crown Corporation created in 2006 under the First Nations Fiscal and Statistical Management Act. FNSI falls within the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada portfolio and is tasked with acquiring and increasing the accessibility of First Nations data in order to improve planning and decision making in important areas. The FNSI works directly with communities to collect objective data and serves as a bridge between the federal, provincial, territorial and First Nations governments.
Implications and Consequences
- Transparency: The federal government continues to reduce the available amount of unbiased, robust and policy-relevant data, part of a trend to shift public policy away from research and towards government ideology. It is harder to hold the government to account without reliable, accessible information.
- Democracy and Equality: By cutting FNSI’s funding, the federal government is limiting access to a tool that allows First Nations communities to participate in the development of policies that directly affect them.
- Access to Information: Many critics point out how these budget cuts show a pattern whereby the Conservative government is willing to sacrifice objective information, data and knowledge that do not conform to its agenda. With these accusations, some consider the “very political” nature of this budget to be conspicuous.
- Transparency: The defunding of the FNSI is one of many reductions contained in the 2012 federal budget. There have been complaints about the secrecy enveloping the cuts and the lack of information about their impact. The case for more transparency has been made by the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, a non-partisan public servant who has faced considerable hurdles in obtaining information on the impact of cuts and of omnibus bills.
Date published: 12 November 2012
Photo from the First Nations Statistical Institute.