Tory hopeful defends party’s aboriginal policy

They’re not germane to Nunavut Inuit.



Nunavut Conservative candidate Duncan Cunningham, feeling the heat over inflammatory opinions about aboriginal rights held by a top Tory advisor, has moved to distance himself from the controversy.

“No matter what party an individual is in, if the views expressed by he or she are not germane to the policy of the party, then they’re not germane to Nunavut Inuit,” Cunningham said last week.

National opinion polls suggest Stephen Harper could become the next prime minister of Canada. Many observers predict his Conservative party may win enough seats in the June 28 federal election to form a minority government.

Tom Flanagan, the national campaign chair for the Conservative party, a leading Conservative party advisor, and an old friend of Stephen Harper, is also the author of the 2000 book First Nations? Second Thoughts, in which he suggests that assimilation is the best policy for Canadian aboriginals.

Inuit, Métis and First Nations leaders asked Harper to clarify the party’s policies on aboriginal people on June 7, and expressed concerns about Tom Flanagan’s role as Harper’s advisor.

By press time, Harper had not responded to aboriginal concerns.

Flanagan opposes modern land claims, and says in his book that “current public policy… is flooding reserves with money, enticing people back, enticing people to stay and weakening their resolve to participate in Canadian society.”

He calls Canada’s Métis an “economically marginal, incohesive assortment of heterogenous groups” that should not have status as aboriginal people.

In response, the Métis National Council passed a unanimous resolution at a meeting on June 9 to support the Liberal party, “based on the current federal policy platforms and legitimate concerns that if the Conservative Party forms the next federal government the rights and self-government aspirations of the Métis Nation within Canada will be in jeopardy.”

“The fact that Mr. Flanagan would be in a position of power to influence the Conservative party is of real concern to our people and should be to all other Aboriginal peoples as well as all Canadians,” president Clément Chartier said in a statement.

This is the first time the Métis Nation has endorsed one party in a federal election.

But Cunningham says that the Conservative party’s record – under Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government from 1984 to 1993 – is proof that the party has supported, and will continue to support, aboriginal rights.

“I think the Conservatives have shown through the signing of the Nunavut land claims agreement and the eight years they were in government before that, during the negotiation of the agreement itself, that they are a friendly party to Inuit.

“The very last act passed by the Progressive Conservative government in 1993 was an act to create Nunavut.”

The Conservative party’s 44-page election platform asserts that the party “believes in the principal of self-government within the context of the Constitution of Canada,” and says that “the principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must apply to aboriginal governments just as they apply to other levels of government.”

The document makes only vague reference to aboriginal policy, under the heading “We will work to improve economic and social conditions for aboriginal Canadians,” in a section about building better communities.

As for what kind of action this would require, the platform only says that the Conservatives will encourage private property ownership, will allow aboriginals to choose which schooling they want for their children, and will create “a matrimonial property code to protect spouses and children in cases of marriage breakdown.”

Cunningham echoes the party line when he says that the Liberals have been dragging their feet when it comes to implementing the land claim that Mulroney’s Conservatives put into place, and says his frustration with implementation of the agreement is one reason he’s running for Parliament.

“I believe that the Liberal government has politicized that agreement, simply because they didn’t sign it. Since taking power in 1993, the Liberal government has consistently abrogated the aboriginal rights of the Inuit. The most shameful example is the gun registry.”

Cunningham says the Liberals have curtailed the aboriginal rights of Nunavut Inuit in health, housing and economic development by denying them full access to federal aboriginal programs.

“Even the Auditor General of Canada has made the point that the federal Liberal government has been taking a legalistic approach to land claims, and has been wasting money, and not implementing their spirit and their intent,” Cunningham says.

The “Conservative” party arose from a merger between the former Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance, and some critics have suggested that former Alliance members now dominate the new party.

Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, once served as research director for the Reform party, the Canadian Alliance’s predecessor.

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