I’ve been reflecting on the English-language debate that took place last night and wondering if the message of First Nations poverty is getting across to the four main political parties.
Score one for the New Democratic Party in my books. Last night, NDP leader Jack Layton was the only one who mentioned First Nations poverty in getting across his point that Canada must support crime prevention, not just lock up criminals:
“If you talk to the leadership of Aboriginal communities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit, they cry out for just descent housing so they don’t have three or four families crammed into a competely unsatisfactory house. And basically with no hope for the future. And where to they find themselves? Drifting into the temptations of crime and ultimately ending up in jail in far too high a percentage And here’s Shawn Atleo, the national chief, calling for a focus on education, a focus on housing, getting clean water into these communities… dealing with the fundamental poverty and its’ not just in aboriginal communities, but it certainly is terrible severe there. These are some of the fundamental underlying causes that we have to tackle as a country.”
There was no other mention of First Nations issues by the other leaders.
I know for a fact that First Nations poverty is a priority for the Liberal Party of Canada. The election platform calls for the development of a Poverty Reduction Plan for Canada, along with an Affordable Housing Framework, an Early Childhood Learning and Care Fund, increases to the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and increased access to post-secondary education opportunities to First Nations and low-income families. But Michael Ignatieff (Liberal, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) didn’t mention any of these in relation to First Nations people. Quite disappointing, even for this die-hard Liberal.
National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo summed up our collective disappointment stating: “Our issues matter now and are critical to Canada’s future. I am disappointed that our people and issues were not a substantive part of the discussion in last night’s leadership debate.”
To make matters worse, there is a significant segment of the Conservative Party that thinks that Aboriginal issues have already been dealt with.
Chris Alexander, a so-called “star candidate” running for the Conservatives in Ajax-Pickering stated “we don’t’ have that kind of poverty in Canada” referring to the World Bank standard defining third-world levels of poverty. Ever since, he has taken a beating for such an ignorant declaration. National Chief Atleo has called upon Alexander to retract his statement.
Even their own Conservative Senator, their tame-Indian, Patrick Brazeau, claimed the Conservative government has already addressed the situation of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. In a Twitter debate with Justin Trudeau (Liberal, Papineau), Brazeau tweeted: “Missing/Murdered already dealt with” in touting his party’s Aboriginal platform. The reality is the neither the missing and murdered Aboriginal women nor First Nations poverty are dealt with in any way in the Conservative election platform.
As I stated before, First Nations are not speaking about poverty as a metaphor. We’re talking about real child poverty, homelessness and third world conditions right here in Canada. This should be a significant election issue. Resolving First Nations poverty should a priority for each and every party and politician in this country.