Liberal aboriginals try to bring issue to floor

Graeme Hamilton
National Post

MONTREAL – As the federal Liberal party officially buried a planned debate yesterday on recognizing Quebec as a nation, its Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission adopted a resolution calling for constitutional recognition of aboriginal nationhood.
Sparked by anger that aboriginals were ignored in the discussion over the recognition of Quebec, the emergency resolution says Canada’s First Peoples should be granted status as a third order of government within Canada.
It calls on the Liberal party, in partnership with Canada’s aboriginals, to “initiate, develop and implement the necessary policy, legislative and constitutional change required to fully implement this recognition of Nationhood and implementation of self-government by First Peoples government.”
It specifies that a future Liberal government should bring forward the recognition “at a future Constitutional Conference” and have it entrenched “in a First Amendment to the Constitution of Canada.”
However, the resolution will not make it to the convention floor during today’s policy plenary because it was received too late, according to the convention rules.
Hank Rowlinson, co-president of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Commission, said he had hoped the issue could be debated by all delegates to the Liberal leadership and policy convention, which opened yesterday.
“Obviously we will work to try to make sure it is in the leader’s platform in the next election,” Mr. Rowlinson said. “It seems that in the debate about Quebec as a nation, the very first people who were here have been left out.”
Michael Ignatieff, the front-running leadership candidate heading into the weekend vote, has called for a new “constitutional division of powers among aboriginal, territorial, provincial and federal orders of government.”
He is also calling for the acknowledgement in the Constitution of “the national status of Quebec and the indigenous nations of Canada.”
But when he addressed commission members yesterday, Mr. Ignatieff made no reference to his proposal for constitutional change. His advocacy of national status for Quebec has been blamed by many Liberals for opening up a divisive debate.
“The candidates are being a little more cautious about introducing a nation debate or opening up the Constitution,” said Bob Goulais, an aboriginal delegate from Ontario who proposed yesterday’s resolution recognizing First Peoples as nations.
Mr. Rowlinson did not take offence that Mr. Ignatieff ignored the constitutional angle during his brief speech to aboriginal delegates. “In Mr. Ignatieff’s aboriginal policy platform, he clearly states that if he becomes leader and becomes prime minister, his platform is to recognize First Nations and Metis as nations within the federation of Canada,” he said.
“He feels, and a lot of people feel, that recognizing us within the nation of Canada is only going to make [the country] stronger, just like recognizing Quebec as a nation.”