Praying Darth Harper and his Death Star Pass Us By: Making Sense of Election Platforms
It is often said that there is no better way to predict future results than by considering past actions. This blog will be a combo of the two - a brief look at each platform as well as some highlights of past actions for each party. Given that there are literally dozens of federal election parties in Canada, I can only deal with so many in the short space of a blog. Also, seeing as the Green Party does not have any seats and the Bloc is only relevant to a certain percentage of Quebec'ers, I will only deal with the Liberal, NDP and Conservatives.
LIBERAL ELECTION PLATFORM:
(1) a partial removal of the funding cap on First Nation post-secondary education with an extra $200M in the first 2 years;
(2) stable funding for First Nations University of Canada;
(3) $5M per year (for 3 years) for a Metis scholarship;
(4) $300M for k-12 education in year 2;
(5) Will continue support for Aboriginal Headstart;
(6) Will create a First Nation Auditor General;
(7) Will have an inquiry into the number of Murdered and Missing Aboriginal Women; and
(8) "Retain lessons and spirit of Kelowna process".
The Liberal Party obviously sees the huge importance of education for Aboriginal peoples. Education is a priority for the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and naturally the Liberals have included an education package in their election promises. However, if you look at this more closely, you will see that they only plan to spend $100 million a year for two years on the grossly underfunded post-secondary education program. The AFN estimated that what is needed is well over $450 million right now.
The Liberals will provide much needed funding in the k-12 education system but only $300 million in year two. I am not sure how effective a one-time influx of funding can be when construction projects, renovations, upgrades and hiring can and often does take several years to complete. Then what? What about operation and maintenance? These are some of the concerns First Nations have raised in regards to their schools.
The other commitments are relatively minor in nature. The Liberals would provide stable funding for the First Nations University of Canada and Metis scholarships. With regard to Aboriginal Headstart, a critically important program for the development of very young pre-school-aged children, which is underfunded and in danger of collapse in many areas - they only promise continued support. That is simply not acceptable. They can't say on the one hand that they want to respect the principles of Kelowna, while on the other hand allow critically important programs to continue to be inequitably and chronically underfunded. The Liberal platform is supposed to be about "families" - what about Aboriginal families?
So aside from limited education funding, what do the Liberals offer? Very little I'm afraid. They will introduce a First Nations Auditor General that no one but the First Nation Tax Commission and Manny Jules wants. How will this improve the lives of grass roots Aboriginal people? Where is the commitment related to treaties, land claims, and First Nation governing jurisdiction? What about a serious commitment to poverty reduction?
The Liberals also promise an inquiry into the issue of murdered and missing Aboriginal women, which to me is a very important commitment. I honestly believe that part of the problem is that the Conservatives quickly moved to silence NWAC when their advocacy efforts brought this serious issue to light. As soon as questions were asked about the lack of police action, funding was cut. I think there are still issues that need to be investigated and facts that need to be brought to light. I am disappointed however, that the Liberals did not offer continued funding for Sisters in Spirit in addition to an inquiry.
It was the Liberal Party who introduced the 2% funding cap on First Nation funding to begin with - so they have at least a moral obligation to remove it. In fairness though, the Liberal Party was the one which participated in the negotiations that led up to the Kelowna Accord which would have seen billions of dollars in funding flow to First Nations for education, housing, water and other vital programs and services. The goal was actually to eliminate poverty in First Nations. The former Prime Minister Paul Martin made it his personal mission to continue to advocate for First Nations and the goals set out in the Kelowna Accord. I am more than a little disappointed then that they are now only promising a "partial" removal of the cap.
Overall, the Liberals have a good start on the education part of their platform, but the rest is sorely lacking in any real substance. Many other key Aboriginal issues have simply not even been mentioned. So, then the question is how likely are they to fulfill their commitments if elected? Well, that is always a hard question, but if I look at some of their past actions, I am reasonably comfortable (65%) that they would follow through - after all, there is not a great deal promised in their platform.
NDP ELECTION PLATFORM:
(1) Increase Canada Student Grants by $200 million, with focus on Aboriginal people and others;
(2) Legislation to target poverty reduction in consultation with Aboriginal and other governments;
(3) Recruit Aboriginal and other medical students;
(4) Lower carbon future in partnership with Aboriginal governments and others;
(5) New partnership with Aboriginal people on nation-nation basis;
(6) End discrimination faced by Aboriginal people - access to capital, improve housing and drinking water, remove 2% funding cap and increase education budget by $1 billion a year over 4 years;
(7) Federal response to violence against Aboriginal women and support funding their organizations;
(8) Work with First Nations and provinces to add 2500 new police officers
The NDP have also showed a priority for education in their Aboriginal platform, but at a much higher level than the Liberals. The NDP are promising to COMPLETELY remove the 2% funding cap and increase the education budget by $1 billion a year for 4 years. That is the kind of significant investment that is required to compensate for the decades of chronic underfunding, but also to offer Aboriginal peoples the same level of opportunities for the future as other Canadians. They seem to grasp the concept that the damage done to Aboriginal peoples took hundreds of years to do, so the solutions will neither be quick nor cheap.
While some of their promises include Aboriginal people, they are not necessarily focused solely on them like the student grants, recruiting of medical students and working towards a lower carbon future. That being said, the rest of their platform is significant. The NDP promise to deal with First Nations on a nation to nation basis, and while details are not offered, I don't see the other parties making similar commitments.
Similarly, the NDP seem to recognize the severe level of discrimination faced by Aboriginal peoples generally and have promised specifically to:
"build a new partnership on a nation-to-nation basis with First Nations, Inuit and Métis people across the country to restore a central element of social justice in Canada and reconcile the hopes of Aboriginal people with those of all Canadians.
We will establish this new partnership by forging a new relationship with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples, fostering economic opportunity and lasting prosperity, ending the discrimination still faced by Aboriginal people in Canada and supporting the process of healing the harms of the past injustices."
They hope to accomplish this by removing the 2% funding cap, adding billions for education, increasing access to capital, and improving housing and safe drinking water on reserve. They also commit to work with Aboriginal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as non-governmental organizations to table legislation that will create goals and targets for poverty reduction. Their commitment to prevent violence against Aboriginal women also includes a direct federal response and funding commitments to related organizations.
Overall, I consider this platform to be the most comprehensive of the three. It certainly commits to action on education, water, infrastructure, violence against women and poverty reduction. These are all very important issues, however there was very little detail on what nation-to-nation relations might look like, how treaties would be factored into the relationship, whether First Nation jurisdiction would be more fully recognized and implemented or whether outstanding land claims would be finally resolved. These are also critically important issues for Aboriginal peoples.
Now, the question of how likely they are to follow through on their election promises is a tough one because they have never been in power either as a majority or minority government. This leaves us with only their actions in opposition to use as a guide. That being said, I think we can also use some of their other actions as a loose guide to future possibilities. The NDP have generally been very supportive of First Nations issues, have sided with First Nations against paternalistic legislative initiatives and spent time in First Nation communities both inside and outside of election campaigns. At the very least, their candidates show up to debates and other Aboriginal forums.
All that being said, I do have some concerns that they were willing to trade off Sharon McIvor's equality rights for the joint process to "talk" about status issues, as requested by the National Aboriginal Organizations. I can say from personal experience that the NDP worked really hard with many of us to draft amendments to better address gender inequality than what was presented in Bill C-3. However, at the end of the day they seemed to side with the Conservatives when passing Bill C-3 which included a provision denying Aboriginal women and their children any right of compensation for the last 25 years of denying their equality rights. This looms large in my mind.
At the end of the day, I can only say that I am more hopeful than confident (60%) that the NDP would live up to their election promises as I don't have enough to go by yet. Their platform is the best of all three, but if they never become the governing party, what does voting for them actually mean? I simply can't get away from my fear that voting for the NDP is like giving a vote to the Conservatives which is like hoping Darth Harper and the Death Star will simply pass us by. I have not seen any credible analysis that argues otherwise.
CONSERVATIVE ELECTION PLATFORM:
(1) New investment in First Nation Land Management to promote development of their land;
(2) Expand adult basic education in territories;
(3) Environmental safety upgrades to fuel tanks;
(4) Promote clean energy;
(5) Commemoration of War of 1812 celebrating First Nation veterans and others;
(6) Work with Aboriginal people and others to create National Conservation Plan;
(7) New national park in Rouge Valley and will try to talk to Aboriginal people and others;
(8) Hunting Advisory panel that will include some Aboriginal people;
(9) Will continue to work cooperatively with Aboriginal people, by enacting accountability legislation publishing salaries of chiefs;
So, at first glance this looks like a rather long list of election promises for Aboriginal peoples. Even when you read the platform itself, much of it reads as a list of what they claim to have already done for Aboriginal peoples, as opposed to what they will do. You'll also notice that the majority of the promises they do make are not at all specific to Aboriginal peoples, but we are "lucky" enough to be included in their plans. For example, the Hunting Advisory Panel, Rouge Valley National Park, National Conservation Plan, and Commemoration of the War of 1812, are all separate commitments that may include Aboriginal participation, but these promises are not specifically for Aboriginal peoples.
The one glaring omission from their platform (of which there are many) is a lack of focus on education. Despite the endless reports and studies highlighting education as one of the main solutions to poverty in First Nations - there is no commitment at all with regards to Aboriginal Headstart, k-12 schools, or post-secondary education. Almost as an aside, they commit to expand adult "basic education" in the north and THAT IS IT! It is like they have heard National Shief Shawn Atleo's calls for education and have completely ignored them. So, strategically, is it better for the Conservatives to have educated or uneducated Aboriginal people? I wonder....
What they do promise is to complete environmental safety upgrades to fuel tanks in northern communities. However, for those of you who practice in this area, you might know that many argue that INAC is liable for these fuel tanks to begin with and that any servicing they might do is part of a risk-reduction plan for their own benefit and not that of the Aboriginal communities. Their "promotion" of clean energy will likely not translate into basic funding to address mold and asbestos in houses, or the lack of safe drinking water and sewage systems in First Nations. These are really empty promises.
So, then what is left in the platform? They promise to invest not in First Nations communities, but in land management to encourage First Nations to develop their lands. The English equivalent of this promise is the introduction of legislation to privatize reserve lands and open them up to commercial development and settlers. In case anyone thinks this is a new initiative, it is not. Remember Tom Flanagan's book "Beyond the Indian Act" advocating for the privatization of reserve lands? That was the one promoted by Manny Jules of the First Nation Tax Commission and allegedly supported by federal funds (my ATIP request will hopefully provide some answers to this).
Their second promise is to enact accountability legislation to make chiefs' salaries public. Holy innovation Batman - is it me or does this sound like the reintroduction of Kelly Block's Bill C-575? I'm sorry if I missed this, but what First Nation asked for this legislation? So, then this is not really a promise for Aboriginal peoples, but more of a political statement reiterating the Conservative position that they know what is best for First Nations and they will enact whatever legislation they want to control the Aboriginal population as they see fit.
This leads me to my analysis of how likely they are to follow through on their election promises. I am VERY confident (90%) that the Harper Conservatives will fulfill their election promises to Aboriginal people for two reasons: (1) there are no real promises in their election platform and (2) the two promises they do make do not involve any expenditure of funds, nor do they have anything to do with Aboriginal priorities. I am also quite confident that I can use their past actions to predict their future actions
Given my past blogs, there is no point in repeating the many, many past actions of the Conservatives in relation to Aboriginal peoples, so I will just highlight a few. Harper has not lifted the 2% funding cap and has never indicated any intention to do so. Harper has also not been interested in consulting and accommodating Aboriginal and treaty, but instead settles for "engagement" if any discussion at all. While he apologized for residential schools, the assimilatory polices upon which they were based, and for the past views of cultural superiority, Harper introduced a whole suite of paternalistic legislation against the will of Aboriginal peoples.
For example, there was Bill C-575 (chiefs salary legislation cleverly introduced by a private MP), Bill C-3 (legislation that did not remedy gender inequality in the Indian Act and excluded compensation for women), Bill S-4 (matrimonial real property on reserve that provided more rights for settlers on reserve lands than for Aboriginal women), and Bill S-11 (drinking water on First Nations that promised federal control and increased regulation and no funding). We can expect more of this should Darth Harper gain control of the rebel citizens with a minority government and even worse should he gain control of the Empire with a majority.
Overall, the Harper Conservatives have not made any promises to Aboriginal people, do not participate in debates on Aboriginal issues and continue to treat First Nations like sub-humans while he and his elite Cabinet group plan for a complete take-over. They do all of this with the arrogance of knowing very few will stand up to them. We have to take some ownership over this and demand that our NAO's, leaders and ourselves do better.
We also have to keep in mind that the Harper Conservatives are a collection of right-wingers, fringe groups and even some red necks. Harper had as his advisor Tom Flanagan, the man who advocated for our assimilation, called us primitive communists and tried to explain our First Nation property rights by citing studies of chimpanzees in his book.
"Collectively, chimps, especially adult males in small groups patrol the boundaries of their group territory and kill chimpanzees from other bands when they can achieve numerical advantage.... Individually, chimps also seek control over resources..." (emphasis added)
Flanagan is like Brazeau in that he plays with words so that he can send his negative message about First Nations in a superficially "neutral" way. Is there any doubt that a Harper government is NOT good for our people?
This is why, for those of you who vote, I ask that you consider your vote very carefully. Do you vote for the NDP because they have the best platform? Does voting for the NDP really risk a majority Harper government? I simply can't say for sure. The Liberals are offering some education initiatives and little else, but at least they are not advocating our complete assimilation as do many of the right-wing Conservative party members and friends. So, then Liberal vote might not be that bad. If someone were to ask me how they should vote, I would say NDP on platform, but Liberal to defeat Harper. It really is a difficult situation especially since for Aboriginal people, we may be voting, but all we are doing is picking our next Indian agent.
I know there are only a few days left to think about it, but as you consider it, here is a neat website that argues that to defeat the Death Star, perhaps what needs to be done is vote strategically versus the ususal best platform or favorite party wins. Something to think about anyway...
I guess its all about the end game. Do we want more body bags and slop buckets sent to First Nations instead of dealing with the real crisis of poverty under a Conservative government, or do we want a chance to get democracy back and put our people, communities, lands and treaties back in the forefront of our nation-building activities as Mohawks, Cree, Mi'kmaq, Ojibway and Maliseet peoples?
If a Harper minority government can do this to their own people, imagine what they would do with a majority government?
For those who Aboriginal people who don't vote, thanks for standing up for our sovereignty - we need our next generation to be as committed and assertive about our nationhood as you are. I think we'd all be alot further along if we put our sovereignty first. For those who do vote, thanks for trying to make a change for our people and for engaging in the debate to see how we can best use the vote to effect that change. As always, I welcome your comments, suggestions and emails.