Conservative Flip Flop or True Stripes?

This blog is somewhat related to my last one in that it involves another look at Conservative Party mentality and specifically that of Minister Duncan, Parliamentary Secretary Glover, and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau. On Tuesday, September 21, 2010, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, held a press conference explaining that the current gap in educational and employment rates between First Nations and other Canadians is not only unfair, but could be addressed by proper funding in education. He argued that a more equitable level of education funding, if invested now, would lead to $179 billion in return to Canada in terms of Gross Domestic Product. Liberal and NDP leaders added that it was a matter of fundamental justice. Atleo later appeared on Parliament Hill as part of the national week of action of First Nations education. His call for reconciliation and proper investment in First Nations education was cheered on by various First Nation participants. He highlighted the atrocities of the residential school system and how education had been used as a tool of oppression. He called on Canada to help First Nations access education as a tool of freedom and empowerment. The core message is one that has even been echoed even by right-wing thinkers like Calvin Helin, Tom Flanagan, Allan Cairns and others: education is empowerment and would address a great many social issues in First Nations. So, then, what is the problem? Atleo has explained that the current funding cap on education, which causes great inequality between First Nations and other Canadians, is not only unjust but prevents First Nations from furthering our genius, intelligence and greatness. On the same day, Senator Brazeau responded with a “Senate of Canada” YouTube video from the Senate Chambers on Parliament Hill which some claim has portrayed First Nations as unaccountable and discriminatory. He further calls for a stop to all funding to First Nations and Aboriginal organizations until they can account or prove that they are achieving measurable outcomes. From his position of privilege in the Senate chamber, Brazeau argued that the current system favours “Aboriginal elites” and fosters a “sense of entitlement”. The response which followed was not surprising. First Nation leaders called Brazeau’s comments unfounded and insulting. The talk amongst some academics seemed to question whether his video criticizing First Nations was an appropriate function of the Senate. I personally question whether or not he has gone too far this time. The video he posted was highly critical of First Nations, although obviously carefully worded. It was shot from the Senate Chamber, which to my knowledge, is reserved for Senate business. Also, the video itself used the Senate namesake and symbol, and all copyright belongs to the Senate. While I am aware that there are a good number of Senators who work with Canadians and social groups to advocate for positive change to the environment, law, justice, and other social issues, I am not aware of any Senator who has used Senate resources to publically attack or criticize specific groups in society, like First Nations. I am not the only one who wondered whether this was appropriate. In a recent APTN article, APTN noted that Minister Duncan had “distanced” himself from Senator Brazeau and his remarks. APTN reported that Mnister Duncan said that Senator Brazeau’s call for a “freeze” on funding to First Nations and organizations does not represent the views of the Conservative Government. While this clarification on behalf of the Minister was well-received, it was unfortunately, very short-lived. As part of a political panel held on APTN News on Thursday, September 30, 2010, the Parliamentary Secretary Shelly Glover was asked about Senator Brazeau’s comments on accountability. She was very clear in her response that she was in agreement with Brazeau’s comments. Not only was she in agreement with Brazeau on First Nations accounting for INAC funds, but for “all funds” which come from the government as it is comprised of “tax payer” funds. She also stated that there were “some indications” that the Conservative government has to take steps to make sure accountability is achieved – the implication being that they are not. Her comments are reminiscent of those of the former Minister of INAC, Chuck Strahl, who often made comments which insinuated that First Nations were plagued with corruption and a lack of accountability. Of course, the implication in Glover’s remarks are that First Nations are not accountable. MP Todd Russell said Senator Brazeau’s comments were “outrageous” and explained that these comments only serve to paint all First Nations with the “same brush”. He further explained that Senator Brazeau was a “mouth piece” for the Conservatives and that Brazeau was not accountable for his own inappropriate actions and statements made against First Nations and individuals who appear as witnesses for the Senate committees. NDP MP Jean Crowder agreed and added that Senator Brazeau’s comments promoted a “stereotype” against First Nations which is not true, as the Auditor General herself has found that First Nations DO account for their funding. First Nations themselves, including the Assembly of First Nations have said they have no problem accounting for their funds and have called for even better mechanisms by which to do so. Crowder also highlighted the fact that when Brazeau left the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples it was investigated for its own serious accountability issues. CAP’s upcoming Annual General Meeting in November may well reveal even more issues left behind from Brazeau days. So, which is it? Do Senator Brazeau’s comments reflect the position of the Conservative government or not? If they do represent the conservative position, then the Duncan-Glover flip flop shows a serious lack of transparency on the part of the Conservatives and raises trust issues let alone a revelation of their true stripes. If they do not represent the conservative position, then the Conservatives better reign in their new Parliamentary Secretary. They can’t have it both ways. I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

One Comment

  1. One thing is for sure, I as a "non-status" person do not consider myself a Canadian. I dislike that others refer to me as such. Shawn Atleo referring to Indgenous Peoples as Canadians shows a lack of understanding on his part IMO, on what sort of status our Nations and Peoples have on Great Turtle Island.

    As for Brazeau, I do not respect the man, he "stepped into the boat and out of the canoe", when he accepted to become one of their senate lackeys, mouthpiece of the far right in brownface. There are many issues I have with his behaviour.

    As for the Indian Act, it should go, but we need to get our act together as Nations, and BEHAVE as Nations, not as subservient municipalities to the british corporation of canada.

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