OTTAWA — In addition to bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada and contributing to COP21 climate change talks in Paris, the new Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is forging ahead on an ambitious agenda regarding First Nations
The throne speech delivered Dec. 4 by the Governor General was brief and short on detail, but among five key areas it highlighted was the establishment of a nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples. Among the government’s First Nations initiatives are reviewing funding, implementing the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and launching an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.
Speaking Dec. 8 to the Assembly of First Nations, Trudeau pledged “nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and the First Nations peoples.”
He called for a relationship that is “based on the understanding that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of First Nations are a sacred obligation that we carry forward.”
“This obligation is based on respect, co-operation, and partnership; it is guided by the spirit and intent of the original treaty relationship; and it respects inherent rights, treaties and jurisdictions, and the decisions of our courts.”
Among the priorities, he said, will be investment in education and efforts to ensure First Nations communities receive “sufficient, predictable and sustained funding.”
The Liberals have been questioned more for what was not in the throne speech than was in it. For example, one of the main criticisms in the first Question Period Dec. 7 was the fact the speech made no mention of ISIS or the promise to remove Canada’s fighter jets from bombing runs in Syria.
What the speech did promise were policies to benefit the middle class, a more open and transparent government, environmental protection that includes investments in clean technology and a tax on carbon, promises to help the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, and renewed UN peacekeeping commitments.
For many groups, though, a lack of specifics raised concerns.
“We’re waiting to see how they are going to roll this out,” said Citizens for Public Justice executive director Joe Gunn.
“We want to give the new government a benefit of the doubt as they get organized, but we also want to see how they are going to roll out elements of a poverty reduction strategy the minister was mandated to bring into being.”
Gunn noted a poverty plan was missing from the throne speech.
The throne speech did talk about a Canadian child benefit “that could really help families living in poverty,” he said.
Gunn said Canadians will have to “follow the money,” because the Liberals “can’t do all these things right away.”
While foreign aid commitments have not been released, Gunn said it is good news Canada is doubling the amount it contributes to the United Nations green fund to help less development countries adjust to climate change. The new figure is $2.65 billion. How and when they roll that out and whether that money is “sucked out of the aid budget” remains to be seen, Gunn said.
Gunn is also waiting to see what the Liberals will do regarding the refugee approval and settlement system. In surveys of private sponsorship organizations, CPJ has discovered “a lot of problems.” For instance, dioceses ready to accept a refugee family from parts of the world other than the Middle East are facing difficulties because of the focus on Syria.