View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Chief Spence or Stephen Harper – Who Will Blink First?

Keith Beardsley Dec 2012CFN – As we enter the New Year, it is time for Chief Spence and Prime Minister Harper to pause and reflect about their on-going standoff. Both sides need to feel that they have won and both sides need to find a way to declare victory. Only then can the two sides proceed to the next step which should be fresh dialogue and agreed to solutions for key First Nations issues.

Some victories are won on the battlefield, some in the hearts and minds of politicians and voters. There is no doubt that Chief Spence has succeeded well beyond any expectations of her when she first started her individual protest. Canadians normally tune out from political issues during the Christmas holiday season, yet Spence kept aboriginal issues front and centre and she managed to do it peacefully garnering positive press coverage from coast to coast. That is a singular achievement few First Nations leaders have been able to achieve and her solitary protest reminds me of Elijah Harper sitting in the Manitoba Legislature defying the political establishment of his day. Clearly Chief Spence on behalf of the First Nations has won the propaganda war. The government’s tired talk point that the Prime Minister met last year with First Nations leaders is pretty weak and it’s no match for media coverage of the chief’s determination and hunger strike.

Chief Spence has succeeded in galvanizing First Nations communities, activists and youth to take action. Her efforts have helped the “Idle No more” movement which started in Saskatchewan, to take root and grow into a national movement. The movement will not go away any time soon and it is something both the present and future Canadian governments, as well as the First Nations leadership will have to deal with. There is more than enough here for Chief Spence to declare victory.

The Prime Minister also needs a face-saving victory. No national government regardless of its political stripe can be seen to give into a protest for the precedent it will set. He too, needs a way out. Victory for Harper will be one where he can say he did not give in to the protest.

Harper needs to reach out beyond his inner circle, cabinet and departmental advisors. Their advice is stale and hasn’t worked so far. This is an opportunity for Harper to put aside past partisan political issues and pick up the phone and call former Prime Minister Joe Clark, who met with Chief Spence last week. I was on Clark’s staff when he worked the back channels to help resolve another First Nations issue, he knows this file. As a former Prime Minister with a Conservative pedigree, he has the respect of many First Nations leaders, he also knows the issues and any advice he would offer the present Prime Minister would be nonpartisan and worth listening too. Having already met with Chief Spence, he also understands her position.

Harper also needs the help of National Chief Shawn Atleo. He needs Atleo’s advice and his expertise to find a face-saving solution. It shouldn’t be one that ends with some grand declaration, but a quiet agreement to work with Harper and First Nations communities over the next few months to reopen the dialogue that is needed to allow both sides to work together.

Atleo and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) need a solution almost as badly as Harper and Spence. Atleo, along with some elders and chiefs that Chief Spence holds in high regard has to be able to convey a solution to her and then work with Spence to look at positive ways to end her hunger strike.

Solutions exist, but both sides have to show flexibility, they also need a win-win situation. Both sides want to improve living conditions for First Nations, both sides also want increased opportunities for First Nations, especially for the youth. Who then will be the first to offer a hand in friendship this time and allow the dialogue to begin?

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.

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  1. Only a respect for individual sovereignty, liberty, private property and free enterprise anarchy will achieve a peaceful resolution but both dirigiste governing entities will continue to push for violent control of force in their favor. This battle for territorial governing powers continues.

  2. Was it Macleans magazine reporting Spence had set up a private bank account to be administered by her boyfriend? I would like more information on that, but in the mean time, has she asked for an appointment the way any Canadian would to see the Prime Minister?

  3. Harper is being true to himself and his loyal followers … because he truly doesn’t give a damn about Theresa Spence’s life or the lives and cutures of Aboriginal youths, so long as the oil sands and other corporate profits keep flowing into his private accounts … er. .. his wife’s accounts (He claims to have none!).
    He hasn’t said a word … because he just doesn’t care. The apology to Aboriginal people for the horrors their children endured in the residential schools … was a lie: Harper has no feelings of apology or anything else, no feelings except greed for profit from Aboriginal land with no share for them.

  4. I would say that thae “Idle No More” movement has grown into an International movement

  5. granny, since 2006 when Harper was elected, Aboriginal funding has gone way up. Pretty good for someone who doesn’t care.
    Now how that money is spent, administered and handed out needs to be audited to ensure people a better quality of life.

  6. It should never have got to the point of who blinks first and who saves face. As prime minister, Mr. Harper has primary responsibility for opening a dialogue on issues of national importance, period. The fact that he has so far shied away from his responsibility to engage with Chief Spence makes his grand apology to First Nations Peoples in 2008 look increasingly hollow and self-serving.

    Sad for our country, granny’s comment above rings horribly true.

  7. I don’t know about Harper on this one, but pushing the aboriginals on reservations, centuries ago, was not a way to treat them respectfully…
    But what is today’s federal government to do? That’s the hard to answer question.

  8. Don’t eat that ERIC … it’s horsesh!t !!

  9. Pierre,
    Harper needs to go and speak to Theresa Spence and start from there.

  10. Just wondering…why wouldn’t Theresa Spence or the “First Nations People” approach the Prime Minister? Like Keith said in his letter, the Gov. doesn’t want to set a precedent whereas every group will think they can demand and expect PM Harper to jump everytime someone is not happy or go on a hunger strike knowing they will get what they want.

    Are aboriginal concerns valid? ABSOLUTELY!!! They deserve respect…..but there are proper steps and proper channels that should be followed in any given situation.

  11. I don’t think Harper could blink even if he wanted to. Do reptiles have eyelids?

  12. Everything the natives learned about deals and negotiotiation, they learned from the Canadian (british) governments. Just because it took them longer to figure out how to play the game, doesn’t mean they don’t have valid issues, it just means the oppressors have changed the rules again.

  13. I don’t know what horse droppings you are talking about granny. In 2008-09 about 600 chiefs and band councilors had a tax free salary over 100,000 and 50 were given over 315,000. Sure the average was 36,845 that year though, meaning some were very low. 2012-13 budget will be 7.8 billion with 83% percent of that as transfer payments, but only about a million people are listed as Aboriginal peoples in 2011. Is the money going to the right places? We don’t know and should. All money used by the government needs to be accountable or returned to the taxpayer.

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