SPECIAL TO NNL – The 2011 federal election created some significant changes in the Canadian political landscape.
Following the vote on May 2nd, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) now has a majority government (166 of 308 seats in the House of Commons) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) is now, for the first time ever, the Official Opposition in Parliament. The Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) was reduced to third party status and the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) lost a large number of seats as well. The leaders of both the BQ and the LPC lost their own seats and resigned shortly after the election. The first Green Party of Canada (GPC) member was elected to Parliament. The final results were:
CPC – 166, NDP – 103, LPC – 34, BQ – 4, GPC – 1
It is notable that a total of 7 Aboriginal candidates were elected as MPs in this election, 5 CPC and 2 NDP:
• Peter Penashue (CPC), Labrador, Newfoundland
• Romeo Saganash (NDP), Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou, Quebec
• Jonathan Genest-Jourdain (NDP), Manicoucan, Quebec
• Rod Bruinooge (CPC), Winnipeg South, Manitoba
• Shelly Glover (CPC), Saint Boniface, Manitoba
• Rob Clarke (CPC), Desenthé-Missinippi-Churchill River, Manitoba
• Leona Aglukkaq (CPC), Nunavut, NWT
This Parliament has a record number of women MPs as well as a large contingent of young members, many of them new NDP members from Quebec.
On May 18, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his new Cabinet (see below) and stated that Parliament will re-open on June 2 and a Speech from the Throne will follow the next day. A federal budget is anticipated to be the first order of business the following week.
A majority government means that the Conservatives can pass budgets and other legislative measures in Parliament because they have the majority of the votes. Of course, the Parliamentary process still applies – legislation has to pass three readings in the House of Commons and go through the Senate before becoming law (the CPC now has a majority in the Senate as well). In addition, Parliamentary Committees will review legislation, and the Conservatives will have a majority on these committees. Opposition members, however, will be able to suggest changes and amendments.
While there are concerns, a majority government actually creates some stability and allows for longer-term planning because the government is not under a constant threat of being brought down by opposition parties. We have seen this in the recent past, where the minority Parliament focused on short-term interests and simplistic approaches. It is possible that we now have an opportunity to discuss a more comprehensive, forward-looking agenda.
The reality is that the federal political landscape has shifted dramatically, but the circumstances in our communities have not. The need for ongoing advocacy and support remains.
Overall, the Prime Minister has signalled that he will move quickly on an active agenda with the key themes being: creating jobs and growth; supporting seniors and families; slashing the deficit; and clamping down on crime.
In order to accomplish this, the Government will bring forward a budget similar to that presented last March. That budget included reducing taxes and initiating a process to cut $4 billion in government programming.
We can anticipate that much of the previous legislative agenda will also return, with the crime bills and eliminating the long-gun registry at the top of the list. First Nations will have a particular interest in the crime bills and will need to ensure advocacy of First Nation interests in this process. The over-representation of First Nation offenders means that we could be disproportionately affected by these new measures.
In addition, we can anticipate a return to the water, MRP and salary disclosure bills. AFN will advance an agenda immediately to press for efforts to work with First Nations and ensure that First Nations rights and interests are not compromised.
Federal Cabinet Announced – Change from “Indian” Affairs to “Aboriginal” Affairs
On May 18, the Prime Minister announced his new Cabinet. First Nations work with all of government and Parliament to ensure our priorities are addressed in ways that work for our citizens and communities.
The Honourable John Duncan returns in his role as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, but note the change in the title from “Indian Affairs” to “Aboriginal Affairs”. The name of the Department will change as well.
Many First Nations were rightly concerned about this change as we want to – and will – ensure that the Minister and government respect and maintain the unique relationship between First Nations and the Crown. We will always work to ensure the constitutionally protected rights of First Nations are respected, the responsibilities to First Nations are upheld and our interests receive specific attention and action.
I had the opportunity to speak to Minister Duncan on May 19 and he assures me that the name change does not in any way signal a change in the relationship between First Nations and the Crown, that our relationship and our rights will be respected. The Minister issued a public statement confirming that his mandate and responsibilities are not altered by the name change.
First Nations are advancing an agenda of meaningful and lasting change grounded in our Treaties, our rights and responsibilities. The First Nation-Crown relationship must drive this change and the resultant need for change in the machinery or structures of government. Fifteen years ago, RCAP called for a Ministry responsible for the Crown relationship with Indigenous peoples and other changes.
I do acknowledge that the reappointment of Minister Duncan is a sign from the federal government that they understand the importance of consistency and stability in such an important portfolio. Ultimately, this needs to be about real change, not a name change.
Also notable, for the first time there are two Indigenous people in cabinet: Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq (Inuit) and newly appointed Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue (Innu). I look forward to continuing our positive working relationship with Minister Aglukkaq. Minister Penashue’s new appointment is significant and may be an important opportunity for us to advance our work given his mandate and considerable responsibility.
Next Steps and the Way Forward
First Nations across Canada have set clear plans based on our rights and Treaties to transform the reality for First Nations in this country, to unlock the full potential of our people, communities and governments to build a stronger country for all our citizens. The stability of the new Parliament – if we work together in the spirit of respect and partnership as articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and based on the understandings embraced in the sacred Treaties – can help us advance a robust agenda for real and meaningful change.
We must build on important commitments made by the Prime Minister, including the endorsement of the UN Declaration, working with us in partnership to strengthen and reform First Nation education, and advancing new approaches such as a First Nations-Crown Gathering to mark progress and to set clear priorities for the future.
Now is our time to stand together to press for progress, action and change that builds stronger First Nations citizens, government and nations.
National Chief Shawn Atleo
Assembly of First Nations