'Progress doesn't mean parity': Indigenous leaders give cautious welcome to minority government
TORONTO --- After a federal election campaign that mostly ignored Indigenous issues on its way to the election of a minority government, First Nations leaders are giving the new-look parliament a cautious welcome.
Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, told CTV’s Your Morning she’s “kinda happy it’s a minority government.”
“This last four years has had lots of promises, lots of studies and not a lot of change,” she said.
“A minority government, just in general, brings in more collaboration across parties. Majority governments tend to get too comfortable and they don’t necessarily respond to citizen concerns in the speed and with the depth of concern that they need to.”
National Indigenous broadcaster APTN reported that this federal election had a record number of Indigenous candidates with at least 62 First Nations, Métis and Inuit contenders.
Indigenous politician Jody Wilson-Raybould, who served as a cabinet member in the previous government, retained her seat but will sit as an independent following her departure from the Liberals over the SNC Lavalin scandal.
“We accomplished showing Ottawa, showing our political process, that independent, strong voices matter and that we can do politics differently,” Wilson-Raybould said in her speech after winning the riding of Vancouver Granville with 32 per cent of the vote. She is now the sole independent in the House of Commons.
In Nunavut, Canada’s largest riding by land area, 25-year-old Mumilaaq Qaqqaq claimed a seat for the NDP.
Blackstock highlighted the ongoing legal battle between the federal government and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) which has ordered compensation for Indigenous families over discrimination of child welfare funding.
“(In this election) I found the Liberals and the Conservatives, regarding First Nations children, to be roughly the same and by that I mean that they both have normalized racial discrimination against First Nations children,” Blackstock said.
The federal government has been ordered to reimburse tens of thousands of First Nations children who were harmed by or denied essential family services. The tribunal ruled that Canada must reimburse each of the more than 50,000 children apprehended or denied welfare services with $40,000, meaning the total compensation will likely exceed $2 billion.
The government is appealing the damage award.
“We’ve had to litigate against both parties in order to try to get them to treat First Nations children fairly and so I’m really hoping that last night was pressing the refresher button,” Blackstock added.
“This discrimination, as the tribunal has repeatedly found, is not just neutral it’s actually contributing to the deaths of some children and to the unnecessary family separations of many, many others.”
She also called for an independent evaluation and reform of the Department of Indigenous Services.
Meanwhile, Assembly of First Nations chief Perry Bellegarde praised the Liberals for doing more for First Nations people “than any government in the last 30 to 40 years.”
“Progress doesn’t mean parity. We have to maintain the momentum and close the gap in terms of quality of life,” Bellegarde told CTV News Channel.
“Continue with the investments in education, in housing and end the boil water advisories. Look at ways to implement the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples, look at ways to move beyond the Indian Act.”
First Nations issues were included in all the party platforms he said.
“You’ve got a huge human capital pool that should be tapped into and once that happens you start closing the socio-economic gap that exists and that’s good for not only our people, it’s good for Canada as a country,” he said.
“With a minority government in play I think there’s going to be greater opportunity to make Canada work for everyone.”
The first Liberal budget under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016 committed nearly $8.4 billion over five years to Indigenous causes.
On the campaign trail this fall, Trudeau made some platform promises relating to Indigenous issues, including on healthcare and moving Indigenous communities off diesel power generation. The Liberal platform also pledged to fully implement previous commitments, such as ending boil-water advisories on all reserves by 2021.
“What I want is a comprehensive plan on how to address the inequalities that First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples experience,” Blackstock added.
“And some of the other issues regarding recognition of rights that have been outstanding for years. Without a comprehensive plan we’re not going to see the type of reform and the type of progress that First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples deserve.”
--- With files from The Canadian Press