Fw: John Ivison: Tories plan First Nations overhaul
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From: Russ Diabo <russdiabo@...>
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Subject: John Ivison: Tories plan First Nations overhaul
John Ivison: Tories plan First Nations overhaul
Posted: June 03, 2009, 5:40 PM by NP Editor
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The Conservative government is set to unveil a new approach to its relations with Canada�s First Nations that will see fresh money flowing to bands when Ottawa believes there is a good prospect of economic success, while bands with a track record of failure will be frozen out.
As part of its move toward a more market-oriented approach, the government is also keen to reform the electoral system used to elect aboriginal chiefs.
Chuck Strahl, the Minister for Indian Affairs and Northern Development, will outline the policy Thursday in a speech in Ottawa. �There will be a shifting of resources. If you take economic development as an example, there has been a tendency to sprinkle it like pixie dust and hope for magic results. I�m increasingly convinced we have to reward those who are ready to take that kind of help,� he said in an interview with the National Post.
In his speech, he will say that the single defining feature of the new approach is that the government is not prepared to �waste time on unproductive and unsuccessful processes�.
Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said that he was surprised that the government is going down this path. �The Prime Minister spoke of reconciliation last year with the historic apology [on residential schools], in effect setting the stage for a new era that ended unilateral decisions and the �we-know-best� approach. We�re committed to partnership but we don�t want the imposition of government will,� he said in an interview.
In its most recent budget, the government announced $1.4-billion of new spending on aboriginal Canadians -- including $200-million on skills and training, $400-million for on-reserve housing, $515-million for on-reserve infrastructure and $325-million for health programs and child and family services.
Mr. Strahl said that new money will be directed towards bands that can strike partnership agreements - with provinces on education and health issues, and with the private sector on economic development and infrastructure. However, he said that base funding for other First Nations would not be cut as part of the new strategy. �You�re just not going to get extra funding, if you�re not doing something different and better.�
The government is intent on rolling out pilot projects in education, where the minister said partnership agreements with provincial and First Nation governments were proving successful in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia; and, in skills development, where it hopes to replicate deals with private sector employers like uranium producer Cameco, with which Ottawa has a $30-million training agreement. �What I�m not prepared to do is have a system where each schoolhouse has its own school-board. It�s not practical and the results are no good. There�s not much doubt about where we want to go with this,� he said.
Mr. Strahl contrasted the benefits of co-operation and partnership with the situation on the Akwesasne reserve, near Cornwall, where residents have closed the Seaway International Bridge as part of a protest opposing the arming of border guards.
The Mohawks of Akwesasne see themselves as a sovereign nation that is not part of Canada, despite receiving millions of dollars for schools, health and social development from the Canadian taxpayer.
Mr. Strahl said the government of Canada does not recognize that sovereignty claim and said the rule of law applies to everyone. �Mohawk communities have a particular perspective about pre-Confederation and so on. I hope that nothing I�m saying is disrespectful but my observation is, notwithstanding all the other interesting discussions, if you don�t develop healthy working relations and partnerships with other levels of government, and your neighbours, you will suffer because you lack opportunities,� he said.
Mr. Strahl said that a number of provincial premiers have told him that the single most important change he could introduce would be to engage in electoral reform to make the system of electing chiefs more accountable. He said chiefs in Atlantic Canada and Manitoba have approached him about resolving what he called a �revolving door� of aboriginal leaders that made tripartite striking deals difficult. He said Ottawa could intervene by striking legislation that, for example, would introduce fixed election dates, standardized rules on a voters� list and a common appeals process. �Any legislation would have to pass muster in those communities,� he said.
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