Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and Governor General David Johnston, right, present the Outstanding Achievement Award to Ian Burney, assistant deputy minister of trade and negotiations in the Department of Foreign Affairs, at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Friday, February 27, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
By Stephen Maher | National Post
On Friday afternoon, Stephen Harper went to Rideau Hall to present the Public Service of Canada’s Outstanding Achievement Award to Ian Burney, assistant deputy minister of trade.
The prime minister did not have time, or judge it appropriate, to attend another event taking place in Ottawa: the national roundtable on missing and murdered aboriginal women, which took place in a downtown hotel.
The federal government, which needs to lead the national response to the urgent and terrible problem facing aboriginals, is unenthusiastic.
Aboriginal leaders sat down with provincial representatives, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, and two federal ministers, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch.
They listened to the relatives of missing and murdered aboriginal women, adopted a vague framework for action and agreed to meet again next year.
At the closing news conference, national chief Perry Bellegarde said leaders have to put their minds to closing the “huge socioeconomic gap that exists between indigenous peoples and non-indigenous peoples.”
“The United Nations human development index has rated Canada sixth-best place to live in the world, up here,” he said.
“But you apply the same index to indigenous people, we’re 63rd, down here. If people cannot get their heads around inherent rights or treaty rights or aboriginal rights, then start getting your heads around the business case. There’s a high social cost to that gap.”
Mr. Bellegarde, naturally, wants Ottawa to help close that gap, which would mean spending money.
The Harper government, which spends $11-billion on aboriginals every year — much of it as mandated by treaties — doesn’t want to do this, because there are no votes in it and the Tories don’t really like government programs.
It also refuses to set up a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, both because it would cost money and would shift the national media spotlight onto the problem, putting pressure on it to take action, which is what it says it wants to do, but which it does not want to do.
Nothing is stopping the government from taking action now, but if you look at the five-year, $25-million national action plan ministers point to, you see little of it is specific to aboriginals. And the amount is piddling: $5-million a year. In comparison, the government will spend $65-million this year on advertising, much of it tailored to give Canadians warm feelings about the incumbent Conservatives.
If the government really wanted to pretend to take action, it would have made a big show of spending more on aboriginal policing, which would be sure to do a lot of good in the most troubled communities in Canada.
The one new initiative the government has signed on for since this issue came to the fore last year is a prevention program, aimed at convincing aboriginal men not to commit acts of violence against aboriginal women.
This program, which may be helpful, dovetails with the government’s message — aboriginals are themselves to blame for high levels of violence, part of a long tradition of federal politicians shirking responsibility for aboriginal problems.
“Obviously, there’s a lack of respect for women and girls on reserves,” Mr. Valcourt said last year. “So, you know, if the guys grow up believing that women have no rights, that’s how they are treated.”
Aboriginals complained his comments amount to victim-blaming. They point out many aboriginal women are murdered by non-aboriginals, like Robert Pickton, and the best way to make them safer is to provide them with better social support.
The government does not see it that way.
“I think we should not view this as sociological phenomenon,” Mr. Harper said in August after the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine. “We should view it as crime.”
In December, he told CBC’s Peter Mansbridge an inquiry “isn’t really high on our radar.”
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian WyldAFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 following the National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Aboriginal leaders complained Friday about Mr. Harper’s reluctance to take action, but he was not there to hear them. And when they complained at the closing news conference, Ms. Leitch and Mr. Valcourt didn’t have to listen to it. They held a separate newser in another hotel.
At events like this, the tedious cliché is everyone needs to work together on this problem.
The provinces and aboriginals’ groups seem to be trying to do that. The feds are in a separate room.
National Post, February 27, 2015 | Last Updated: Mar 1