Even though Stephen Harper has pledged to pull out Canadian combat troops from Afghanistan in 2011, the ongoing economic consequences of Canada’s Afghan policy are still being felt domestically by Canada’s First Nations communities, says Assembly of First Nations national Chief Phil Fontaine.
Mr. Fontaine, wading into the federal election campaign, called on all political parties to build on the June 11 residential schools apology and work toward a reconciliation with native people. That reconciliation will require what he called a “Kelowna-plus” solution, referring to the accord reached three years ago by the previous Liberal government that promised $5-billion to raise the standard of living of aboriginal people to that of other Canadians by 2015. After they were elected, the Conservatives dismissed Kelowna as a flawed press release.
“There’s been $22-billion expended on the Afghan war, and so what is there for first nations people?” Mr. Fontaine asked. “The response we’re looking for from each of the parties is next steps in regards to the eradication of first nations poverty.”
Mr. Fontaine said the absence of any discussion of native issues in the campaign for the Oct. 14 election is a disservice to all Canadians, and urged the political parties to address those issues in their platforms.
“First nations poverty is the single most important social justice issue in the country and we would expect that each of the parties would do the responsible thing, and that is to engage Canadians,” he said.
There are 27,000 native children in state care, 40 communities without schools, 100 communities under boil-water advisories and serious concerns about housing and health care for people living on reserves, Mr. Fontaine said.
$22 Billion. That kind of cash would sure go a long way to help alleviate crippling levels of poverty among Canada’s First Nations peoples. Of course, all (hollow) apologies aside, one could argue that the Conservative government’s true sentiments with regards to our Aboriginal citizens may have been laid bare earlier this week by an aide to Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, who, according to the Globe, was caught on tape telling a group of native protesters in Cannon’s riding that a meeting with Cannon could be arranged “if you behave and you’re sober.” No word on whether the aide was wearing a sweater vest at the time, which, in my estimation, would have at least put a kinder, gentler veneer on this latest expression of an all-too-familiar (and disturbingly casual) racism that lurks below the surface of so-called ‘civil society’ in Canada.