- Category: news
- Created: Friday, 04 October 2013 13:18
- Published: Friday, 04 October 2013 13:18
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BY MURRAY MANDRYK, THE LEADER-POST
Of all the things that Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) Chief Perry Bellegarde finds disheartening about the current Saskatchewan Party ads slamming the NDP and leader Cam Broten over revenuesharing, most disheartening is their dismissive tone.
Looking at it as a partisan strategy, Bellegarde doesn't "get" why the Wall/Sask. Party took this approach. "It is almost always First Nations people against everyone else in Saskatchewan," Bellegarde said. "It's almost as if they've written off 15 to 20 per cent in the province."
Bellegarde is probably right about the ad's subliminal theme, but he might be wrong about how politically effective the ad is or how truly callous the Sask. Party is when it comes to First Nations' votes.
Notwithstanding its political domination almost everywhere, the Sask. Party pretty much still writes off some seats like the two northern ones (dominated by the First Nations vote) and a few inner-city ridings (again, with large segments of First Nations people). So bet that Wall and company are counting that their recent ads, subliminally trashing First Nations revenue-sharing "demands", will do them more political good than harm.
Still, Bellegarde wonders about this as long-term strategy, given that in 30 to 40 years, First Nations people - the demographic with the highest birthrate in the province - might account for a majority of its population. "How do you want First Nations people to treat everyone else when they are the majority?" asked the FSIN chief, who also questions Wall's emphasis on "immigration" when it comes to Saskatchewan passing 1.1 million in population.
Setting aside the politics in play, Bellegarde also wonders how Wall's subliminal political messaging makes sense for the premier's own economic agenda.
"When First Nations people win, everybody wins," said Bellegarde, who questions why Wall and the Sask. Party seem so eager to make any form of discussion of revenuesharing a forbidden topic.
It's a valid question. One gets why Wall and the Sask. Party would oppose the way First Nations revenue-sharing was advanced by the NDP and former leader Dwain Lingenfelter in the 2011 election as a desperate and equally cynical grab for votes. The NDP's election proposal offered no details and appeared to centre around the FSIN distributing a specific portion of the province's resource wealth as it saw fit. Beyond the question of inherent fairness to all, there is the delicate matter of First Nations' past failings in fairly and effectively distributing such dollars.
But when Bellegarde talks about resource-revenue sharing, that sure doesn't seem to be what he's talking about. Besides, how would Wall - or any of us - have any idea of Bellegarde's or the FSIN's views on revenue-sharing if the governing party dismisses even talking about it? "We're not asking for all the resources," Bellegarde said, adding that the FSIN views this issue as an economic partnership. "We don't want to take anything away from you or your children."
A fine example of how First Nations are becoming economic partners with the rest of Saskatchewan is gaming, Bellegarde noted. Currently, the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority and its casinos contribute more to provincial coffers than First Nations get from government casinos in Regina and Moose Jaw.
But even with all Wall's rhetoric about a need for such economic partnerships and better understanding that "we are all treaty people", there seems to be a deliberately dismissive view - as represented in the Sask. Party political ads - that First Nations are demanding something new and separate from the treaties.
Bellegarde said the FSIN and government instead should be talking about how resource revenue-sharing can be developed within the treaty framework. And while the FSIN chief acknowledged such discussions are never easy, he noted that treaty land entitlement was once viewed in the same way. Today, it's largely seen as an economic benefit to both sides.
Rather than write off the Sask. Party government in the same way it seems to writing off the First Nations vote, Bellegarde vows he and the FSIN will just have to press harder to make their case. "This is something that's not going to go away," Bellegarde said. "I'm not going to quit talking about it."
This might be the unanticipated political consequence for Wall and the Sask. Party.
Sure, it's easy to dismiss something as unworthy of discussion in the not-so-real world of your party's ads.
But when you're running government, can you realistically ever refuse to talk about an issue? Mandryk is the political columnist for the Leader-Post.