View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Stephen Harper Idle No More – Set to meet First Nations Leaders January 11, 2013

Keith Beardsley Dec 2012CFN – The Prime Minister’s announcement today that he will be meeting with First Nations leaders on January 11th sets the stage for discussions that can provide meaningful progress on First Nations issues.

It was not an unexpected move as both the government and the AFN need to limit the growth of the “Idle No More” movement both in terms of its popular support and to limit any damage it might do the economy.

Events of the last few days gave them that opportunity and the catalyst was the ultimatum of Chief Spence. As the “Idle No More” movement gained credibility and media coverage, Chief Spence and her hunger strike is at risk of becoming a side show with the main focus shifting to the tactics and blockades of the movement which have the potential to seriously damage the economy. Her decision to issue a 72 hour ultimatum to Harper was a bad move, and one has to question her decision as she would have known that Harper could not be seen to give into such an ultimatum.

Spence was originally one of the key motivators for the “Idle No More” movement, was this ultimatum an attempt to reestablish her position within the movement? Was the ultimatum an attempt to become a spokesperson for a grassroots movement that by its very nature has multiple spokespeople representing different interests and concerns and regions?

Her ultimatum gave the Harper government an opportunity to shift their attention from Chief Spence to limiting any economic damage the movement might cause. Spence’s ultimatum ensured that the Prime Minister and his government could not deal with her and the AFN became their best option as both the government and the AFN have a mutual interest in limiting the growing influence of the “Idle No More” movement.

The movement has gained strength, even spreading beyond our borders. Any blockade that supporters of the movement establish, no matter how short the duration, costs the economy. Local towns and various levels of government have unanticipated policing costs, suppliers lose money, transportation companies lose as do retailers who can’t get resupplied. A sustained period of unpredictable disruptions will hurt the economy and that has to be of concern to the federal government.

National Chief Atleo and the Assembly of First Nations must also be concerned with the growth of the movement and the dissatisfaction with the status quo that it represents. The “Idle No More” movement is challenging the authority of the chiefs and their leadership role, especially their role in effecting positive change for First Nations communities and youth. The movement reflects the grassroots frustration with both government and the aboriginal leadership who for decades have failed to solve the issues of most concern to First Nations communities.

Chief Spence’s actions have given the government and the AFN an opening to work together. Politically this agreement to meet has the potential to sideline Spence. The meeting will also give Harper an opportunity to demonstrate his genuine concern for First Nations issues and his real desire to improve things. The AFN can show that they are still the ones who can get concessions from the government. By agreeing to meet, the first step has been taken. The next step is more difficult, but must include a working plan for change with firm deadlines and measurable outcomes.

This agreement to meet will also box in the opposition parties leaving them with a stark choice.  They are left with the choice of supporting a working agreement between the government and aboriginal leadership or backing a hunger striker and a movement that has the potential to damage the already fragile Canadian economy. Not an enviable political position to be in.

Whatever the outcome, the movement will not fade away as it represents the legitimate frustrations of the grassroots. The question becomes whether or not the government and the First Nations leadership have enough common sense and common ground to meet, discuss and agree to solutions that will for the time being neutralize much of the frustration being displayed through the efforts of the “Idle No More” movement.

In the end any short term solution is just a bandaide on a much bigger problem that has been festering for generations. By seizing the moment, the AFN and the government have been handed an opportunity where they can make common cause to effect positive change for First Native communities. It is in everyone’s best interest that they succeed.

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. Side show?? I believe the ultimatum was issued because the woman has not eaten since the 10th of December. I don’t think it was to shame Harper or make him do anything, but to remind him and the people of Canada that the woman will die if this continues.

    And Harpers twitter posts since Ms. Spence entered into this, are digusting. “you can’t make friends with salad” “mmmmmm bacon” Nice. He really does care about his people doesn’t he. Mr Harper could learn a lot from Ms. Spence.

  2. Most thinking Canadians can live with the so-called economic consequences of a few blockades. Most thinking Canadians, including our children and grandchildren, cannot live with the future economic consequences of Bill C-45, which include the gutting of environmental assessments in favour of the bottom lines of Chinese and other multinational oil companies.

  3. If Theresa dies from here ‘starvation diet’ it would be 20 years in the making. Another mith being played out in public for the fray the bad news of the recent report of the Auditor General, of which she played a part for about 16 or so months though the audit covered 2005 to 2010.

    Show us the money. Of $104.0 million given to Attawapiskat over those years, of 505 project expenses barily only 100 had been documented…that is only 20%.

    No, Theresa was not allone in this scam of events. The lenders as well as our own government turned a blind eye to the un-accountability until now when the get cought. Now it is a matter of who will get the most blame. They were all comp[licit. The Canadian voters (get that, VOTERS) appear to be the only ones who care. Yes, a few others like the auditors and hopefully the RCMP care too.

  4. Bill C-45 deserves to become the tipping point of pan-Canadian outrage against government by vandalism.

  5. Ironic that someone on a “hunger strike” could be so full of baloney.

  6. I’m pleased to no end that First Nations bands have stepped up and legally challenged Bills C-38 and c-45. It seems Harper and his motley crew of Reformers are being taken to court every month now. From the courts he should be escorted to a jail cell as an example of “getting tough on crime”. With no pizza and tv nights.

    The vast dismantling of environmental protections for Canadian lakes and rivers is inviting irreparable damages to these water bodies. Especially for aboriginal peoples whose lives are so closely tied to them.

    Some media are saying the Attawapiskat chief’s hunger strike is merely a liquid diet. A loss of 20 plus pounds in a short period
    doesn’t seem like a holiday though.

    More than a $100 million of funding for Attawakpiskat for six years with little or no supporting paperwork for its spending has to sound irresponsible.

    For the chief’s life partner/financial overseer to blame records
    oversight on ‘young’ financial staff makes me think of Elections Canada excusing the acceptance of illegal votes because pollsters might not have been trained properly.

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