First Nations first: the political agenda as the House returns

John Geddes considers the PM’s To Do list at the start of 2013

When it comes to assessing the performance of political leaders, there’s often a good deal of talk about how well they succeed at setting the agenda. But since the agenda rarely conforms for long to anyone’s manipulations, what matters more is how well they adjust to the unexpected.

Stephen Harper didn’t plan for aboriginal affairs to emerge as the dominant federal issue at the start of 2013. But when the House resumes sitting on Jan. 28, he’ll have to cope anyway with a first order of business imposed largely by Idle No More and Theresa Spence.

The Prime Minister will try, judging from his own public statements and comments made by his officials and cabinet ministers, to pull this unwieldy set of issues, foisted on him by shopping-mall drum circles and a fasting chief, into the safer confines of his own, preferred economic agenda.

To that end, he’ll argue that the way to offer new hope to impoverished reserves is to link their fortunes to natural resource developments. Instead of seeing First Nations’ grievances in sweeping historic and constitutional terms, Harper will frame the problem as an underutilized labour pool that could be matched with an expanding economic sector. Better education, his government contends, is the key. So listen for that theme when Harper meets one-on-one, as planned for sometime in the next few weeks, with Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo.

Oddly, Harper’s preference for casting issues in economic terms doesn’t mean this year’s budget will be all that big a deal. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is signaling that 2013’s fiscal blueprint will be an uncommonly tight one. Indeed, with the economy cooling, he won’t have the tax revenue for much fresh spending. (How, though, will Flaherty meet credible demands to fund infrastructure?)

Severe restraint on budget-making leaves the Conservatives in need of other ways to show that they are making a difference when it comes to jobs and prosperity. The need to fill that gap makes finalizing a Canada-European Union trade deal—expected early this year—even more politically crucial.

And with Flaherty’s restraint sure to continue squeezing many federal programs, Harper needs to avoid sending the message that he’s failing to exert spending control elsewhere—especially on the purchase of new military jets. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose has the lead on that troublesome file. Within the first few months of this year, Ambrose should have the independent reports she needs to recommend sticking with Lockheed Martin’s troubled F-35, or beginning in earnest some new process for choosing an alternative fighter. Either way, it’ll be a controversial call—certain to spark turmoil in the House.

Opposition leaders have even less power than prime ministers to dictate the agenda, and thus generally need to be even more opportunistic. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, however, has lately shown some caution. Mulcair kept his distance, for instance, from Chief Spence’s hunger strike, and has generally avoided sounding like he’s trying to score easy points on the file. Popular reaction to First Nation protests is at best unpredictable.

On other files, Mulcair is hardly likely to holding back. His NDP has to be annoyed that news broke before the House resumed sitting on the federal ethics commissioner finding that Flaherty violated conflict of interest rules by trying to influence a CRTC decision. That’s the sort of lapse they will make QP fodder every time. The looming question concerning ethics is when Elections Canada will come to any conclusions in its investigations, now featuring RCMP help, into Tories being behind deceptive campaign robocalls. Any development there would carry obvious agenda-disrupting importance.

Until something like that happens, one of Mulcair’s most difficult tasks will be somehow making last year’s government actions seem fresh enough to still deserve this year’s attention. Key Harper moves from 2012—streamlining approval of resource projects, pushing Employment Insurance recipients to take jobs, requiring Canadians to work a couple more years to qualify for Old Age Security—all remain NDP targets. But in an era of epidemic mass-media ADD, can measures unveiled months and months ago, no matter how lastingly important, keep commanding our interest?

Beyond the control of either Harper or Mulcair is the Liberal leadership contest. Both must be hoping Justin Trudeau’s lead continues to look insurmountable, robbing the race of suspense. Until Liberals (and mere supporters of the party, under its new rules) vote for the new leader on April 14, Bob Rae will lead the third-place party in the House. Watch for Harper or Mulcair to pay Rae a good deal of respect—the better to hint that Liberals passed on their most prime-ministerial option.

As for trying to look prime-ministerial, Mulcair is planning spring trips to both the U.S. and Europe. There’s nothing like a jaunt abroad, complete with photo-ops beside impressive foreign figures, to put a little statesmanlike gloss on a political scrapper. Harper, for his part, isn’t expected to be travelling near as often as he did last year. But perhaps focusing on Canada’s own First Nations, which seem in so many respects worlds apart within our borders,  will feel just as much like venturing into unfamiliar territory.

First Nations first: the political agenda as the House returns

  1. Major goof for Mulcair. He’ll be left out of all the coverage.

  2. “The Prime Minister will try, judging from his own public statements and
    comments made by his officials and cabinet ministers, to pull this
    unwieldy set of issues, foisted on him by shopping-mall drum circles and
    a fasting chief, into the safer confines of his own, preferred economic
    agenda.”

    No doubt. But if idlenomore doesn’t fizzle out [i'm leaning toward not fizzling] the pressure that they can continue to bring on the treaty chiefs and the AFN [ there is already some talk of a separate treaty org] could well be sufficient to force Harper to deal with the bigger picture whether he likes it or not. Besides hasn’t he already promised as much in the recent meeting with Atleo? You may be underestimating how much these two guys need each other. And if that’s the case, the PM will not have things all his way as he is wont to do.
    http://aptn.ca/pages/news/2013/01/25/pm-harper-believes-idle-no-more-movement-creating-negative-public-reaction-say-confidential-notes/
    Or not…maybe the guy actually figures he can leverage public opinion against idlenomore and the chiefs?

    • Harper is at least trying to fix some of the problems, slowly but surely. This supposed ‘big picture’ is just greed on the part of the chiefs who want to bolster their prestige, status, and power without conferring any benefit on the indians under their tutelage.

      • You haven’t a shred of evidence or first hand knowledge that might back that opinion up, do you? You hear about a few greedy corrupt chiefs and you simply extrapolate. Until i hear that opinion coming from the people themselves i’ll choose to believe that at least a plurality of chiefs want a better life for their people.

        • Isn’t a “few” greedy, corrupt Chiefs good enough for you? It is for me.

          • Really! I would have thought a vague rumour that you overheard as you were exiting a meeting of the local white supremacy AGM, would be sufficient for the likes of you.

          • What turned out to be sufficient for the likes of me was an audit report on Chief Lobster Tails detailing the spending of $104 milions of my money without backup invoice.

            On top of which the Attawapiskat Band has more Zambonis to drive around on than Spence’s old Buck 850 boy friend has teeth.

          • Were you equally indignant when Landslide Tony p!ssed away nearly half that amount on gazebos and other useless installations in his riding? Was that enough “greedy, corrupt” Cons for you at the time?

          • By that standard there isn’t a party or politician fit to lead our country.

    • Much of the public opinion is already against the ‘idle’ blockaders and the chiefs.

      • How much is much? And public opinion is fickle. Besides it isn’t soley a popularity contest.

      • wrong, but then again, I am referring to jan 28 polls, so

    • Wow – have you matured at all since the McCarthy era?

        • Charlie or Joe…what difference? They were both wooden-headed and, in that respect, apparent role models for you.

          • Don’t you have a date with a fire hydrant?

  3. The Indian Act should be repealed, the asian influence in the Americas was predated by European influence;

    In 1998 Dr. Michael Brown and colleagues found
    European/Caucasoid mitochondrial DNA markers in Indian tribes, mainly
    concentrated in the Great Lakes region of North America. Mitochondrial
    DNA allows researchers to determine dates that the groups mixed with
    each other. What they found was that European/Caucasoid DNA made it to
    the Americas between 12,000 and 36,000 years ago. Additionally,
    researchers investigating Human Lymphocyte Antigen (HLA’s) have found
    these markers in Peruvian Paracas Mummies, and American Indians in
    Northeastern America. These markers are now understood to have arrived
    in the Americas “in antiquity.”

    • White supremacy groups notwithstanding, the first North Americans were, and still are, Asian.

      • On the basis of comprehensive RFLP analysis, it has been inferred that
        ∼97% of Native American mtDNAs belong to one of four major founding
        mtDNA lineages, designated haplogroups “A”–“D.” It has been proposed
        that a fifth mtDNA haplogroup (haplogroup X) represents a minor founding
        lineage in Native Americans. Unlike haplogroups A–D, haplogroup X is
        also found at low frequencies in modern European populations. To
        investigate the origins, diversity, and continental relationships of
        this haplogroup, we performed mtDNA high-resolution RFLP and complete
        control region (CR) sequence analysis on 22 putative Native American
        haplogroup X and 14 putative European haplogroup X mtDNAs. The results
        identified a consensus haplogroup X motif that characterizes our
        European and Native American samples. Among Native Americans, haplogroup
        X appears to be essentially restricted to northern Amerindian groups,
        including the Ojibwa, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, the Sioux, and the Yakima,
        although we also observed this haplogroup in the Na-Dene–speaking
        Navajo. Median network analysis indicated that European and Native
        American haplogroup X mtDNAs, although distinct, nevertheless are
        distantly related to each other. Time estimates for the arrival of X in
        North America are 12,000–36,000 years ago, depending on the number of
        assumed founders, thus supporting the conclusion that the peoples
        harboring haplogroup X were among the original founders of Native
        American populations. To date, haplogroup X has not been unambiguously
        identified in Asia, raising the possibility that some Native American
        founders were of Caucasian ancestry.

        • Rubbish.

          Stop reading crackpot evangelist and white supremacy sites.

          • US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health is neither crackpot nor white supremacist.

          • It’s on the Stormfront site. And it’s neither ‘medicine’ nor ‘health’….it’s crackpot….and you’re one for believing crap.

          • “Information that is created by or for the US government on this site is within the public domain. Public domain
            information on the National Library of Medicine (NLM) Web pages may be freely distributed and copied. However, it is
            requested that in any subsequent use of this work, NLM be given appropriate acknowledgment.”

            Sure Emily……….roll eyes.

          • Yesterday, the word for the day was “doll” or sweetie or something.
            Today, the word for the day is “crackpot”
            Way to go Emily there’s nothing like being in a rut.

        • The Nuu-Chah-Nulth are located in British Columbia on the west coast of Vancouver Island with populations ranging from Alberni Inlet to Nootka Sound.

        • Caucasian ancestry are rooted in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq geographic area, and are black or dark pigment skin, if you prefer that. Light colored people adapted to cave dwelling. Correct me if i am mistaken and please provide some data.

      • WRONG
        East Africans, like everyone else.

        • In 1987, A world wide survey of human mitochondrial DNA
          (mtDNA) was published by Cann, Stoneking, and Wilson in Nature magazine.
          Its main point was that “all mitochondrial DNAs stem from one woman”
          and that she probably lived around 200,000 years ago in Africa. When the
          media picked up from Wilson, one of the authors of the paper, that they
          had found the “Mitochondrial Eve” or “African Eve”, the story became a
          sensation. Have scientists found “the mother of us all”?

Sign in to comment.