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Daniel Wilson served 10 years as a diplomat in Canada’s Foreign Service, working mainly with refugees in Africa and South-east Asia. Joining the Assembly of First Nations, he became Senior Director of Strategic Policy and Planning. Of Mi’kmaq Acadian and Irish heritage, Daniel was a founding Chair of the New Democratic Party Aboriginal Commission and manager of the 2011 Romeo Saganash campaign for leader. He now works as an independent consultant and writes about rights. Topics covered on this blog include Indigenous and other human rights as they relate to Canadian and international politics.

Stephen Harper prepares to fail his biggest test as PM

| January 9, 2013
Stephen Harper prepares to fail his biggest test as PM

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be facing the defining issue of his regime.  As he prepares for Friday's meeting with First Nations leaders, he faces the strongest public opposition to his core agenda that he has seen in his seven years in office, one that is widespread, motivated, and legally empowered.

I am not speaking of a hidden agenda, but one that is plain to any observer.

Mr. Harper's long ties to the oil and gas industry are well known. That industry employed his father, it employed him, and he served notice early in his first term that "Canada's emergence as a global energy powerhouse -- the emerging 'energy superpower' our government intends to build," is his overriding economic vision.

But he faces a significant hurdle in realizing that agenda in the way he would like: Indigenous rights.

Mr. Harper's animosity toward Indigenous rights has been less forthright, but clear. Tom Flanagan – Harper's former Chief of Staff, campaign manager, and mentor at the University of Calgary -- is open in his view that the assimilation of First Nations is the Conservatives' desired goal. Mr. Harper's true colours showed briefly when he claimed that, "We also have no history of colonialism," but the real evidence has been his government's ongoing attacks on the legitimacy of Indigenous rights, the legal status of First Nations governments, the honesty and competency of First Nations leadership, and the viability of reserves. 

By his deeds he shall be known.

On the global stage, he stood almost alone in opposition to 144 other countries in voting against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Domestically, he has tabled bills that diminish First Nations jurisdiction to that of administrative agencies of the federal government.  His party has consistently claimed that First Nation governments are corrupt or mismanaged.  He killed the Kelowna Accord. His steadfast refusal to fund First Nation child welfare agencies at the same rate as provincial agencies -- a gap of 22 per cent according to the Auditor General -- is the subject of a human rights complaint for discrimination. The cap of two per cent funding growth per annum for education, housing, infrastructure (like drinking water) and other essential services means that, while keeping up with inflation, First Nations are further impoverished each year at the same rate as they have children (approximately 3.5 per year).  To make his purpose obvious, he has legislation aimed at selling communally held reserve lands to private interests and the now infamous Bill C-45 created new arrangements for the leasing of reserve lands to non-band members.

Each of these steps is aimed at diminishing the power and capacity of First Nations to function.  Each is calculated to drive people off reserve. Like Harper's legislative attacks on environmental protection, each serves the goal of eventually allowing oil, gas, mining, and other resource extraction industries to go about their business unhindered.

But people stood up to the bully and in his first real test, he blinked. In reluctantly agreeing to meet this Friday, he has shown his nervousness. In the maliciousness with which his people have attacked Chief Theresa Spence this week, he has shown his fear.

By all reports, Mr. Harper is not inclined to negotiate, preferring to dictate the terms through which he gets what he wants. His former Minister of Indian Affairs and potential successor, Jim Prentice, warned against this approach twice in the past year. In June, Mr. Prentice said, "the constitutional obligation to consult with first nations is not a corporate obligation. It is the federal government's responsibility.  Finally, these issues cannot be resolved by regulatory fiat -- they require negotiation. The real risk is not regulatory rejection but regulatory approval, undermined by subsequent legal challenges and the absence of 'social licence' to operate." And in September Mr. Prentice again warned that pipeline projects were threatened by the failure to consult and accommodate First Nations rights and interests.

However, on Friday, Mr. Harper is not going to repeal the legislation that prompted the Idle No More protests. In fact, he has little to offer from his usual bag of tricks -- more individualism through reduced communal rights, increasing entrepreneurial activity by putting at risk the loss of Indigenous lands, or formal equality that eliminates constitutional rights -- making one wonder what he thinks can be achieved on January 11. After working very hard to convince Canada that First Nations are both historical anachronisms without relevance in today's world and corrupt fiefdoms devoted to fiscal profligacy, he has little trust to contribute toward resolution of the conflict.

And so, he will try to bluff his way through, to buy time until the storm passes, as he did by proroguing Parliament in the past. Apparently, he will focus on proposals for a First Nations Education Act and the creation of a working group on treaties. Despite the fact that Chiefs have rejected the process by which the education bill is being developed, Harper no doubt believes it plays well with the Canadian public and he knows that education is the priority for many First Nations.  In this way, he can paint his opposition as being against improving education outcomes, try to undermine growing public support, and perhaps divide First Nations against themselves.  Without a radical change in attitude, the treaties working group has equally little hope of producing a positive outcome.

Mr. Harper's approach will not work, but he has shown no capacity to admit his mistakes and change course, nor would a truly new relationship fit within his ideology. This should be a grave concern to the economic interests that he seeks to serve.

The greater concern may be that he is intent on provoking greater conflict. He may believe that this is the last chance in the long history of failure that is the policy of assimilation and, therefore, is making one final effort to get through intimidation what even his own former Minister has told him can only be achieved through honest negotiation.

This is part three of a four part series in advance of Friday's meeting. Tomorrow, justice.



Government still keeping the First Nations down.

The Canadian government needs to honour all treaties.

If not, idle no more should continue, stop the pipeline, stop the trains, stop everything until their rights are addressed.

The pc government is like the residential schools in the 50s take the Indian out and make them civilized.

How can they be civilized when they have no human rights? How can they be civilized when they are treated like animals from the government, from a good majority of Canadians, even treated like 2nd class citizens from refugees and immigrants?


The most appalling of all, is Canada is building a Canadian Human Rights museum on a Indian burial ground, on land, which is Indian land, which again was taken from them, from the white man, in a Province & Country that still discriminates and denies First Nation people their Human Rights! This is disgusting. If First Nations were honoured all treaties they wouldn't 'be living on swamp land. They wouldn't be starving. They wouldn't be living in these deplorable conditions, they're forced to live in, Times like these, I am ashamed to be a Canadian.

Martin Luther King - I Have A Dream Speech - August 28, 1963 - YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=smEqnnklfYs

I made a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Stephen Harper & kick him in the nuts while I sing "O Canada."

As an immediate start First Nations need to take their rightful place in government and they MUST have a share of the resources being taken out of their backyards, the rest including but not limited to developing our own communities both economically and socially can then truly start.

This is not just about Harper it is about the actions of his government

The Kelowna Accord was an agreement worked out among the First Nations and all the provincial governments, as well as the federal government. Parliament approved the Accord by majority vote, over the objections of the minority Harper government.

Thus the Kelowna Accord was supported by a wide cross-country consensus. Harper was never elected with a mandate to kill the Kelowna Accord. That's the "reality" that the Harper government refused, and still refuses, to accept.

Some governments learn from the mistakes of past governments.

The Aboriginals's don't need to be Anglo Saxonized. Canada is a multicultural country.

Leave them alone!

If you assimilate them, what do you think will happen? Aboriginals have rights. They are people, not savages.

And why wouldn't the Aboriginals fit into society (i.e. employment)? All other immigrants face the same thing if they want to be employable, but it doesn't mean they have to give up who they are.

Harper needs to read up on Canadian history and before making a big mistake, understand what would happen if he assimilates this group (and in the future any other group) of people.

Thank you for your replies, Mr.Wilson.

I will not reply to all of your replies - the points of view having been made clear on both sides. We know where we stand.

However, I will respond to the Kelowna reply because we must be careful not to plant false information into some understanding where it does not belong.

The Kelowna accord could have been implemented by Mr.Martin's government had he not prorogued Parliament at the time he did. He could have called on election later, until such time as the Kelowna accord could have been implemented. The government's term of governing was not up when Mr.Martin called for an election. It was his choice to call the election when he did.

And when the election did take place, Mr.Martin did not get voted in and in fact resigned as Liberal leader.


Of course, governments look at previous government's innitiatives. What I was saying is that as initiatves, such as they are, no government is required to look at previous government's initiatives.


And if I recall correctly, there was no mass demonstration at the time when the CPC decided to not implement the Kelowna Accord initiative.


You see, when voters go to the polls, they do make a choice. The last three election results have mandated the CPC to form government. Some people may not like such outcomes, some people might even try and present us with some strange mathematical reasoning as to why the CPC should not be forming government,, but most of us have to deal with reality. 

Harper's goal of assimilation is slightly less offensive than the government's much earlier goal: “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in these [residential] schools, and that they die at a much higher rate [50% mortality] than in villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department [Indian Affairs], which is geared towards the Final Solution of our Indian Problem." D. C. Scott, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1910.

I always thought that Hitler coined the term "Final Solution," but it was actually a Canadian. 

Francien Verhoeven said:

"The INM may be in trouble if the anti-Harper slant will become the dominant one."


Or not.  Don't forget that Harper and the Conservatives only received 24% of  the votes of eligible Canadian voters.   And the Conservative party, and Harper's, support numbers have dropped since the election.


Considering the numbers, if 'Idle No More' were to adopt an 'anti-Harper' slant, it could actually increase its popularity with Canadians.


Francien Verhoeven, thank you for your 3 questions. Following are my attempts to answer.

Whether the NDP or Greens would implement the policies of prior administrations will only be answered fully if one of those parties form government, however, both did pledge to implement Kelowna in the 2006 campaign.  I would also note in that regard that Mr. Harpers' government has proceeded with other commitments from the previous Liberal administration.  That was, in fact, the explanation for how they got involved in the F-35 purchase, for example. 

The list of individual Conservative M.P.s who have made allegations of corruption against First Nations is quite lengthy, including several who made such comments this week in response to the audit of Attawapiskat.  Such comments also can be found in the comments of the Conservative M.P.s in support of recent legislation requiring more financial reporting from First Nations, all of which is in Hansard.

I am unable to say what Mr. Martin thinks nor relate any previous prorogations by the Martin or Chretien governments to the Kelowna Accord in any way, so I don't have an answer to your question, nor am I sure I understand it.

Daniel Wilson asserts:"And so, he [Harper] will try to bluff his way through, to buy time until the storm passes, as he did by proroguing Parliament in the past."


And please tell us, Mr.Wilson, if exPM Chretien or exPM Martin had not prorogued the House prematurely, would the Kelowna Accord have been implemented by now? Please let us know how Mr.Martin thinks about that.

Daniel Wilson asserts: " To make his [Harper's] purpose obvious, he has legislation aimed at selling communally held reserve lands to private interests and the now infamous Bill C-45 created new arrangements for the leasing of reserve lands to non-band members. Each of these steps is aimed at diminishing the power and capacity of First Nations to function.  Each is calculated to drive people off reserve."


What nonsense!

Many Native people are in agreement with what bill C45 has to say about Navigable Waters Protection Act. Please, have a look at what Ernie Crey has to say on the topic of bill C45.


And what about this report by Jen Gerson of the Western Front:"

“We’re ecstatic about [the changes],” president David Marit said, as reported by the CBC’s Saskatoon website.

“It’s a long fight that we’ve had to deal with and we finally got what we wanted.” Jen is talking about the The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM).


Perhaps looking in all directions would be the first step, Mr.Wilson, when making an attempt at objective commenting.


But if your aim is not to comment objectively, well then your write-up makes a lot of sense to those readers who are drawn to your kind of commenting. 

Has it ever occurred to you that the more anti-Harper sentiment is to be attached to the INM movement, the higher the chances are for the public at large to come to stand behind PM Harper, not against him? I would be careful if I were you. The INM may be in trouble if the anti-Harper slant will become the dominant one.



Daniel Wilson asserts: "He [Harper] killed the Kelowna Accord.


What was there to be killed? The Kelowna Accord was never voted in by any government.

And by the way, the government which had issued the Kelowna Accord - the Liberal government of Paul Martin - was not voted back into government.


Why should a new government, any new government, seek implementation of a previous government initiative paper? 

Would the NDP or the Green party, in case either party would be voted in to form government, implement initiatives put forth by the previous government? Of course not. But I could be wrong. It would be better to let Mr.Mulcair or Ms.Green speak in that regard.

"His party has consistently claimed that First Nation governments are corrupt or mismanaged."


Could you please tell us when his party has claimed that First Nation governments are corrupt?



Re comment by dsds:

As home to a good chunk of the world's freshwater, it'd didn't behoove Canada to pledge our biggest resource as a right to the rest of the world.  And, if Canada was following Native treaties as they were written, there's no obligation for the feds to be building water filtration systems for reserves.



Canada alone voted against 'everyone's right to drinking water' at the United Nations.  This is not the Canada of 10 years ago.  My question is 'how can true Canadians allow this to happen to their country".  When did Canada become mean-spirited enough to want to make all people pay for drinking water?  What kind of mind believes that?

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