Introduction:
In Ontario, 85.5% of Indigenous people live off-reserve and receive vital services from Indigenous-governed community organisations such as Friendship Centres. During the pandemic, Friendship Centres have served the essential needs of communities through culture-based supports, educational programming, and health supports including vaccine drives. As Ontario enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial the province governs with an inclusive growth mandate which recognizes the importance of reconciliation, the critical nature of community social infrastructure, including Friendship Centres, and anticipates future shocks. Our 2022 pre-budget recommendations support accelerating community wellbeing through housing, childcare, and child welfare reform to create sustainable well-being and prosperity.

Housing:

In response to the housing crisis gripping the province, the Ontario government must develop a housing strategy which is evidence-based, and which responds to current realities and future pressures. The strategy must introduce housing solutions along the housing continuum and commit to long-term, sustainable solutions addressing the intersecting crises of affordability, climate change, and sprawl. The government must assume leadership on housing by implementing a provincial strategy committing to:

  • Ending homelessness.
  • Creating permanently affordable housing.
  • Supporting Indigenous-governed community housing initiatives, like the Urban Indigenous Homeward Bound (UIHB) Program.
  • Implementing a provincial rental housing strategy.

Child Care:

New urban Indigenous-specific investments in early learning and childcare are needed to address underserved needs of Friendship Centre communities and contribute to recovery and maintenance of Indigenous cultures and languages. The OFIFC recommends the province commit to reconciliation by transforming and expanding Indigenous-led childcare to a service model directly managed and delivered by Indigenous organizations and communities. This should include universal access for all urban Indigenous families and reflect equitable infrastructure, staff recruitment, and retention needs. Ontario should ensure equitable post-COVID economic growth for urban Indigenous communities that leads to improved long-term social and economic outcomes, and increased labour force participation for Indigenous women.

Child Welfare Redesign:

Indigenous children continue to be overrepresented in Ontario’s child welfare system due to deeply rooted systemic racism. For a redesigned system, Friendship Centres must be acknowledged as preventing and mitigating the disproportionate involvement of Indigenous children and their families with children’s aid societies. The OFIFC calls upon the Ontario government to take action to amend its Child, Youth and Family Services Act in a manner that recognizes Friendship Centres as community governed Indigenous service providers. The OFIFC recommends shifting provincial investments out of the substantial child protection budget and moving this into community-based, prevention focused Indigenous service provision.

Recommendations:

It is recommended the province of Ontario:

  • Assume a leadership role in addressing the housing crisis by implementing a provincial housing strategy.
  • Provide long-term sustainable supports for Indigenous-led housing solutions like the OFIFC’s UIHB program.
  • Take action on the development of a responsive, culturally relevant childcare system in Ontario, directly managed and delivered by urban Indigenous organizations.
  • Amend child welfare legislation to recognize the role of community governed Indigenous service providers and enhance support of their prevention and early intervention work by transferring resources out of Ontario’s child protection budget.

Read OFIFC’s full 2022 pre-budget submission here