Nancy Macdonald’s disturbing look at racism run rampant in Winnipeg produced a stunning moment when Winnipeg’s civic leaders declared their united intention to fight racism and repair their city’s image. The story also caught the attention of Niki Ashton, a two-term New Democrat in the House of Commons who represents Manitoba’s northernmost reaches—and has spent months on a single-minded mission to convince someone on the government side that they ought to call a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
Last week, Winnipeg’s leaders assembled in the office of Mayor Brian Bowman. Today, Ashton rose in her place in Ottawa. “Thanks to recent media coverage, Canadians are finally talking about the horrific levels of racism faced by indigenous peoples in cities like Winnipeg and elsewhere,” she said. “From healthcare to police protection to employment and education, indigenous people are too often treated as second-class citizens.”
Ashton turned her attention to to Bernard Valcourt, the Aboriginal Affairs Minister opposite her in the House. That second-class treatment, she said, “often has a direct correlation with government policy put forward by this federal government.” Ashton implored Valcourt to lend his hand to whatever struggles against racism lie ahead.
Valcourt, unmoved, expounded on what his government’s already doing to improve the quality of life of aboriginal people. He spoke of vague commitments to “concrete actions” on economic development, good governance, skills training, negotiated treaties and ongoing reconciliation. Not once did Valcourt condemn racism, nor even say the word out loud. Whether an aide reprinted the minister’s talking points from an old file—say, GeneralResponse-QP.doc—or whoever wrote them didn’t think a condemnation of racism was worth a few seconds in question period. Neither quite rises to the thoughtful conversation sparked by Macdonald’s work.