Last Thursday, Canadians experienced a second “Day of Action” staged by Canada’s First Nations.
Its purpose is to draw attention to the broken promises of the Conservative government regarding the Kelowna Accord and the government’s failure to build a relationship with Canada’s aboriginal peoples.
During the last federal election, the Conservatives pledged they would “put the wheels on Kelowna.” That promise has been broken in dramatic fashion.
The Harper government, in fact, scrapped the $5.1-billion Kelowna Accord and has put nothing in its place. This is the reason Assembly of First Nations’ national chief Phil Fontaine openly has talked about the immense frustration and disappointment among First Nations around the Kelowna Accord.
The sad reality is that the absence of the Kelowna Accord has left First Nations with few alternatives to address the issues of health, education, and infrastructure that confront their communities.
In fact, Chief Fontaine has said conditions have worsened since last year’s “Day of Action”—a shameful condemnation of the Conservative government, and a strong indication the Conservatives ignored the message from last year’s protest.
The few announcements from the Conservatives that we have seen on infrastructure, education, or health have been piecemeal or little more than pilot projects.
Worse, in order to fund progress in one area, the Conservatives have had to dip into the budgets of other important programs.
Last year, for instance, the capital budget for on-reserve schools was reduced by $20 million while the construction and repair of schools in communities across Canada was delayed indefinitely.
For this year’s “Day of Action,” the AFN put a strong, clear focus on the plight of First Nations’ children who are paying a very high price for this government’s failures.
First Nations’ children receive less funding for education per capita than any Canadian children. First Nations’ child welfare systems are under-funded compared to provincial child welfare systems.
Chief Fontaine has put the issue in context, saying there are more First Nations’ children in care today than there were students at the height of the residential school era.
The status quo is not acceptable, but Indian and Northern Affairs minister Chuck Strahl’s argument that money is not the issue is an indication the Conservatives are not willing to make the investments necessary to put First Nations’ children on the same footing as the rest of Canadian children.
This second “Day of Action” in two years also was an international embarrassment, but not the only mark against our credibility on aboriginal issues on the world stage.
Last year’s Canadian vote against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples demonstrated the height of hypocrisy for a Conservative government which claims to be a leader on human rights.
Last Thursday, thousands of aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians called on the Conservatives to change course, to either bring back Kelowna or come up with a real plan to meet the accord’s targets and objectives—and to make improved relations with aboriginals an immediate priority.
This is an important issue for all Canadians. Our aboriginal population is significantly younger and growing much faster than the non-aboriginal population.
This youth demographic presents us with a real opportunity to contribute to the future of Canada in a meaningful way. That was the goal of the “Day of Action”—a goal the Liberal Opposition supports.
Now is the time for action.