View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Inching Forward on Native Issues in Canada – January 25, 2012

CFN – Most reports indicate some progress was made at the Crown-First Nations Gathering yesterday. This is positive news and a sign that both sides are inching forward and making progress. While there was speculation that Harper would only attend for a few minutes, he surprised observers by committing much of his day to the proceedings.

While we can concentrate on the differences between the sides right down to what symbolism was used IE Harper referred to a tree and Atleo referred to a rock, there are other positive signs. Clearly Atleo and Harper get along and can communicate with each other. I get the sense that there is a mutual respect for each other and this comes across in public. This bodes well for any private discussions they might have.

Another significant feature of yesterday’s meeting was the amount of time the Prime Minister committed to the event. Anyone who has worked with a Prime Minister knows the intense pressure their schedule is under. This holds true at the ministerial level as well. Meetings and time commitments are measured in minutes, not hours. The fact that Harper set aside his agenda to spend a significant amount of his day at the conference sends a signal to both ministers and departmental officials that the Prime Minister has now taken a keen interest in these files. That translates into there had better be results.

Clearly the Indian Act will be overhauled. While Atleo suggested doing away with it, in effect that is what will happen by the time it is updated, amended and changed. This will be a significant step forward providing of course both sides cooperate, show good faith and agree on the necessary changes.

Some of the items announced in the joint statement are important to First Nations as they try to manage their affairs. Moving to a multi-year funding arrangement is crucial. No longer will Chiefs have to go cap in hand to the minister and department each year.

The same holds true for educational reforms and developing an action plan for economic development for First Nations. Both sides are inching forward. If the constructive tone on display at the Gathering continues there is a possibility of real progress. Long overdue progress, maybe measured in inches, but at least things are moving in the right direction.

I was disappointed to see former Prime Minister Paul Martin come out and attack Harper on the conference. I think this was a missed opportunity. Martin has built up considerable experience working with First Nations. His foundation and its success in working to advance education and training opportunities offer one model, although not the only one, on ways to move educational issues forward. He has also had success in attracting corporate donations and investment to encourage aboriginal business development. I would have preferred to see him offer to work with the present Prime Minister, rather than refight old battles. In the same way I hope the present government will not ignore Martin’s work or expertise simply because he is a former political opponent and Liberal Prime Minister. First Nations issues should cross party lines, solutions not scoring political points should be the end game.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

Best Western Cornwall


  1. “Anyone who has worked with a Prime Minister knows the intense pressure their schedule is under… . The fact that Harper set aside his agenda to spend a significant amount of his day at the conference sends a signal to both ministers and departmental officials that the Prime Minister has now taken a keen interest in these files.”

    I won’t argue with you about the PM’s schedule – you know much more about it than I do. However, does the PM really care about Native People issues, or was the change of schedule more a form of damage control? A lot of Canadians do care about these issues, even if they don’t actively take part. What sort of outcry would there have been had Harper simply read his speech and left?

    Another fair question would be whether Harper intended all along to be there for the whole day, and that this possible change of schedule wasn’t just a cynical ploy to be seen as caring.

    As for Martin attacking Harper, why not? Martin was the PM when the Kelowna Accord was negotiated six years ago. The accord was supported by pretty well all of the Native organisations, so more than likely it would have been a step forward. As soon as Harper got into power, he reneged on it. One can only speculate on the progress that might have taken place during these six years.

    You’re right, Keith, there does need to be more cross-party cooperation, not only on Native issues, but on all the problems that threaten this country.

    But please don’t criticise attacks based on the facts. If Dion and Ignatief hadn’t been such gentlemen when they were leaders of the opposition, if they had actually attacked Harper on his record (which goes back long before he became PM), then they might have exposed the emperor’s new clothes.

  2. This news just in, Prime Minister Harper seen walking on water, watch for the “PM can’t swim” segment on the 11 o’clock news.

    I doubt that most things are not thought through at this level; I have read that PE Trudeau had planned the pirouette dance for after the Queen’s signing. I would hope much thought is put into most things other than ordering soup.

    Martin attacking Harper does not make him look as good as the man he is. But the issue I have with Kelona involves the money. Almost 2 billion to create school systems seems like a lot when there are already school systems. Sure these schools may not be on reserves or next door, but that leads to a bigger issue of reservations themselves. Are they really helping the people?

    Almost 2 billion for housing as well listed in the accord, seems like a lot which comes back to reserves. Would there be consideration by these peoples, of moving closer to cities with water, housing, schools, health care and jobs, if they could keep similar programs and the lands they use now to practice their ways and still be true to the past and future generations?
    I do not want to seem mean, I just think there must be another way for these peoples to have the dignity, prosperity and lives they deserve, not the newspaper articles focusing on money mismanagement. Change is not easy, may not be wanted even, but the way things are now is not helping either the taxpayer or this group.

  3. Hahahaha….Eric does not want to seem mean….he just wants to move First Nation peoples closer to the city, so as to save money….What do they do out there anyways? Hunt and fish? No big deal, they can just drive out on the weekends to take care of that little fetish….I mean, be serious people, cities have been a round much longer than Natives, so it’s there own fault for building their resevations where they did….like Eric said, it’s about dignity, prosperity, and lives they deserve… long as its OK with the White man…..

  4. Destructo, the First Nations peoples can move where they want, we have mobility rights in Canada. While the “white man” ( read all taxpayers no matter the gender/race/etc) are paying billions, and there are education, health care and systems of safety nets already in place, should everyone not offer input to reduce costs?

    Can the system now in place not be improved?

  5. Sure they can move wherever they want….but thet can also stay wherever they want, no? And yes, the system can be improved….greatly. Without having to move people from their homes.

  6. I was laid off from a good paying job in Cornwall, I could have stayed there and collected EI then social assistence, or lower paying work. I did not see a life for a family in that and moved a couple of kilometers at my own expense, closer to other work and other higher education.

    Opportunities are there, just different than what we may be used to, and of course, everyone is free to choose what is best for them.

    I would not suggest to move entire populations but give people the knowledge of what is out there to decide if it would provide more opportunity for the next generation. Anyway, the next step is between the First Nations and the other elected leaders in government, but the candy store is empty.

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