Prime Minister Stephen Harper deals with First Nation issues the way he deals with all issues — careful consideration followed by concrete actions. So, the hysteria by the federal opposition and liberal media about Attawapiskat is not helping anyone, least of all those on the reserve who need help now.
To begin with, there was the righteous indignation of NDP’s Charlie Angus. At first, he made sense and yes he was correct to bring the matter forward. The Attawapiskat reserve is, after all, in his riding. But, unfortunately, he went beyond indignation and turned the issue into a political football.
However, even Angus’ antics for the television cameras pale beside the performance in the House of Commons by Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae — who looked like he was about to have a heart attack when he was discussing the matter. Yet, as an Ontarian, I have no memory of his NDP government doing anything for Attawapiskat while he was Premier of Ontario from October 1990 to June 1995.
So, how does PM Harper deal with First Nations issues?
Well, as Kathryn Blaze Carlson writes in today’s National Post, while former PMs Jean Chretien and Paul Martin were well-meaning and shed a few tears for some of the horrible living conditions on so many reserves, it was PM Harper who has actually done something. For example, he was the first Canadian Prime Minister to:
- Stand up in the House of Commons and apologize for the abuse in the Indian Residential School system (as noted in the earlier Harper government accomplishment list, item # 5);
- Endorse the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
- Extend the Canadian Human Rights Act to aboriginals living on reserves (Link);
- Appoint two Aboriginals to Cabinet, Peter Penashue and Leona Aglukkaq; (Link) and
- Be named an honourary chief by Alberta’s Blood Tribe (see photo at start of this post).
While there will no doubt be some who point out the endorsement of the UN declaration was initially rejected by the Harper government, once the PM established that the Declaration did not infringe on Canadian sovereignty, it was accepted. So, Harper gets things done in his own way. No flash, no tears. Just hard work and a conviction that there must be accountability and transparency by all parties. As Carlson writes:
“Tim Powers, a Conservative strategist who once served as an aboriginal affairs negotiator for the federal government, said the prime minister’s reaction to the situation in Attawapiskat is classic Stephen Harper….’I think he will stay away from Kelowna Accord-type things — big announcements, big money — that don’t do anything. Harper’s political moves are always informed by the historical calculations and miscalculations of others, so when he judged his predecessor, he saw Paul Martin creating a wish-list that could never be fulfilled.”
So, let’s stop the finger-pointing and anti-Conservative bashing and get on with helping those in Attawapiskat, as well as other First Nations needing assistance. And, as a conservative, I fully expect part of Mr. Harper’s focus will be on creating mechanisms that provide transparency and accountability by both First Nations communities and the federal government.
C/P Jack’s Newswatch.