Charest says conference should focus on aboriginal youth issues

Okalik, ITK look forward to Kelowna 2.0


Paul Okalik, the Nunavut premier, says he's looking forward to a first ministers meeting this fall that will deal with aboriginal issues, including a possible revival of some parts of the Kelowna accord.

Okalik said this will give Nunavut a chance to lobby for more Inuit education and training money, plus more money to build a second batch of social housing units under the Nunavut Housing Trust.

"I indicated to my colleagues at the meeting that we are committed to meeting the training needs of Inuit," Okalik said.

The Council of the Federation, made up of all provincial and territorial leaders, demanded the gathering after meeting July 16 with the leaders of Canada's national aboriginal organizations.

On July 19, the Globe and Mail reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has accepted the invitation and agrees to put aboriginal issues on the agenda, as well as climate change and the national economy.

Jean Charest, the Quebec premier and chair of last week's Council of the Federation meeting, told reporters July 16 that now is a good time to build on Harper's June 11 apology to aboriginal people for the residential school system.

"An important number of Canadians have stood up and taken notice. All of a sudden we're conscious that the relationship we have with our native people, with the Inuit and Metis is important, and it needs to be addressed," Charest said at a televised press conference.

To that end, Charest said the first ministers conference should focus on aboriginal youth issues, such as education.

At the first minister's gathering at Kelowna, B.C., held Nov. 24, 25, 2005, Paul Martin, then the prime minister, promised to spend $5.1 billion on aboriginal issues over 10 years, including at least $2 billion on education.

But Martin's government was defeated in the 2006 election, and the victorious Conservatives carried out only some of the promises that Martin made at Kelowna.

One Kelowna measure that did survive was a $300 million social housing payment to the three northern territories, $200 million of which went to Nunavut.

Okalik now wants the federal government to do a repeat version of that plan when the first one expires.

Mary Simon, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said in a news release issued July 20 that aboriginal leaders must also be invited to the fall first ministers' gathering.

And she agreed that such a gathering should build on Harper's June 11 apology.

"I told the prime minister on that day that Inuit will be ready to work with him and his government in building a new relationship and there is no better place to start than at the next first ministers meeting," Simon said.

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