January 15, 2009 / 6:54 PM / 9 years ago

Canada's natives ask government for $4 billion

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A federation of Canadian aboriginal groups on Thursday will ask the government for a $4 billion ($3.2 billion) stimulus package for spending on infrastructure, education and private-sector partnerships.

<p>Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine speaks in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Tom Hanson/Pool</p>

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine unveiled the request ahead of a meeting on Thursday night with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the country’s provincial and territorial premiers.

“Our big concern is we’re in the middle of a crisis and we’ll become an afterthought,” Fontaine said at a news conference.

The assembly will ask for C$3 billion in direct spending over three to five years, starting with C$600 million in each of the next two years, and also a C$1 billion repayable loan fund to support partnerships with the private sector.

Harper is in the last stages of consultation ahead of the January 27 federal budget, which he has said will run a substantial deficit after 12 consecutive years of surpluses as part of a major effort to stimulate an economy now thought to be in recession.

In addition to tax cuts, the federal government has promised large infrastructure spending and has asked for suggestions for how to spend such money and cut red tape. It is also offering a package of assistance to the auto industry.

Canada’s cities have presented C$13 billion of “shovel-ready” projects they said could create 150,000 jobs but said on Thursday they could not afford to put up their usual one-third share. Usually the federal, provincial and municipal governments each pay a third of the costs.

Following Thursday night’s meetings with Fontaine and other native groups, Harper and the premiers will meet all day on Friday to discuss how to revive the economy.

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney will make a presentation on the global economy to Friday’s closed-door meeting, and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will be present for discussions on what to do to boost the economy.

Ministers responsible for employment insurance and infrastructure will also take part.

($1=$1.26 Canadian)

Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Frank McGurty

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