If Justin Trudeau were prime minister, he would be pushing for a new set of agreements between Canada and its First Nations, modeled on the scrapped 2006 Kelowna Accord.
“Absolutely, that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to build the kind of relationship that’s going to allow us to sit down fairly quickly ... to chart a path forward for all the people who share this land,” the Liberal leader said yesterday in an exclusive interview with the News.
There were two strengths to the 2006 agreement signed in Kelowna, Trudeau said.
The first was a significant amount of money - roughly $5 billion over 10 years - invested wisely in helping address housing and capacity development in First Nations communities, he said.
“The second thing that was so important about the Kelowna Accord was the process by which it was reached. It was a true, iterative consultative process over 18 months where leaders sat down at the table about what was needed, how to come to common ground. It’s that kind of process that we need, it’s that kind of approach that we haven’t seen from this government since it came to power.”
The Kelowna Accord was a series of agreements between the federal government, provinces and indigenous leaders negotiated under Paul Martin’s Liberal government in 2005.
At the time, it was heralded as a major step forward, and a road map to helping lift many aboriginal communities out of poverty.
“I thought we were finally going to turn a corner,” said Phil Fontaine, the Assembly of First Nation’s national chief at the time.
But it was never fully implemented. When Stephen Harper’s Conservative government took power in 2006, he drastically reduced the amount budgeted for the accord’s implementation, and the plan was ultimately abandoned.
It had a brief resurgence earlier this winter when Idle No More protests swept the country. Paul Martin weighed into that debate, arguing that the Conservative government still doesn’t recognize the damage it did by killing his accord.
“What the Conservative government did, with the complicit participation of the NDP, in killing the Kelowna Accords was just a horrible mistake, and a real lost opportunity,” he said.
“The next federal election will come on the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Kelowna Accords, and it means that we’ve lost 10 years of potential capacity building in First Nations communities across the country,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau was in Whitehorse this week for meetings with indigenous leaders from across the country at the Assembly of First Nations annual assembly.
He said he wasn’t here to make speeches, or proclaim a 15-point First Nations plan. Instead, he was here to listen and learn, he said.
But he didn’t pass up the opportunity to take some shots at the man whose job he wants.
“I’m here to listen and to send the message to aboriginal leaders across the country that not all politicians can be judged by the mould that Mr. Harper has set out,” he told reporters outside the Coast High Country Inn on Wednesday.
“This government has been so narrowly focused on its own partisan ideological purposes, that it’s not able to govern responsibly, particularly on an issue as important to our economy as the kinds of resources that will only be developed appropriately once we have the full participation of First Nations peoples,” he said.
He also gave his thoughts on two of the resolutions passed by the AFN general assembly on Thursday afternoon.
One of those resolutions was a push for First Nations control over First Nations education.
“We need to completely redesign and re-engage First Nations education. It’s been a monumental failure of the federal government over the years.
“My take on education is that the federal government needs to be more involved in conversation with territorial and provincial partners. We need leadership around education, and therefore I see much more room for partnership with First Nations peoples as well,” he said.
He also said that the recent report that the federal government conducted experiments on unwitting and starving residential school children is another example of the amount of healing that still needs to happen in Canada.
“This is an opportunity to take a shocking and appalling piece of our history and try to get the government to move, because it’s not moving on just about anything else,” he said.