Ottawa – January 8, 2013 – The meeting this week in Ottawa between the Prime Minister, and Idle No More advocates and First Nations leaders must result in more than just a photo opportunity, but Government Boss Stephen Harper's history is not encouraging. One of the first actions Harper took when he first became Prime Minister was to discard the Kelowna Accord — a comprehensive agreement between the federal and provincial governments, and the leaders of five national Aboriginal organizations in Canada to bring equitable education, employment and living conditions to Aboriginal Peoples.
The agreement was the result of two years of consultations between the stakeholders. When he came to power, Harper tossed the Kelowna Accord aside in his first budget; claiming it was a working paper, and not binding on his government.
Seven years later, a crisis of inadequate housing, health care, educational resources, and lack of employment opportunities continues in First Nations communities. What hasn't continued is consultation, which is not a surprise from a Harper government which has spent millions touting its Canada's Economic Action Plan, but has shown little action in addressing or listening to the voices and concerns of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples. The government's ear has been more focused on its corporate supporters, who were recently rewarded with the gutting of environmental regulations and review processes, which could potentially result in tremendous harm to air, soil and water quality in treaty-land areas near pipelines, mines, and shipping channels. These changes, forced through in Harper's recent Budgets, were not only undemocratic but now also the focus of Charter legal challenges for failing to consult with First Nations communities on matters that impact their treaty rights.
The Idle No More Movement, and the hunger strike by Chief Theresa Spence have forced a reluctant Harper to meet this week with First Nations stakeholders whose serious concerns have up until now been treated like an inconvenience. This is the same government that conducted a spying campaign on Dr. Cindy Blackstock, an advocate for Aboriginal children, and the Executive Director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada (FNCFCS), which is a UFCW Canada National Partner.
Prime Minister Harper will no doubt be smiling for the media at this week's meeting, but the time for being idle and cynical, while a crisis rages in Canada's Aboriginal communities, must end. Serious consultation must resume to deliver a legitimate action plan with set goals and a timetable to provide the equity, safety, health care and opportunity now denied to hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal women, men and children across Canada.