A Watershed Opportunity for Partnering in Canada: Will We Succeed?

After years of talking, the Harper Government is currently meeting with Aboriginal leaders from across Canada. The goal is to find solutions to the escalating problems facing Aboriginal peoples in Canada. “The future of Aboriginal peoples in Canada is at a crossroads.  So is our image within the global community as a progressive nation,” said Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada. The Green Party has been urging such action for years as is demonstrated in a press release of August 9, 2011, where May stated, “(We must) renew our determination to find solutions to the problems facing Indigenous people, especially in Canada where such basic needs as clean drinking water are not being met, to our continued national shame.”

There has been a serious lack of progress by succeeding Canadian Governments since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was signed in 1948, which called for social protection for all with adequate living standards, access to health and education, food and housing, and social security.

In the ‘Social Protection Floor’ report submitted to the UN Secretary General on October 27, 2011, Michelle Bachelet, UN Women’s Executive Director and Chair of the Advisory Group calls for guaranteeing basic income and services for all, not only as a means to ensure peace and stability but also to boost economic growth. The report notes that measures providing income security and scaling up essential health services are affordable even in the poorest countries.

The report points out, “A Guaranteed Basic Income can use a combination of cash or kind, such as pensions, child benefits, employment guarantees and services for the unemployed and working poor, as well as universal access to essential affordable social services in health, water and sanitation, education, food and affordable housing.”

Michelle Bachelet stated, “People everywhere are anxious about the future, frustrated about the economy, and upset with political leaders. Achieving social protection for all is critical to building fairer, more inclusive and equitable societies.”

As Mr. Harper and his team negotiate with Aboriginal leaders, hopefully in good faith as partners in forging toward the future, it is noted that the report’s preliminary conclusions were also presented to a ministerial meeting of the G-20 group.  This won an immediate pledge by the group to support new measures aimed at extending social protection worldwide “as a means of reducing poverty, stimulating economies and hedging against the impacts of economic crises.” “Extending social protection is a ’win-win’ investment that pays off both in the short term, given its effects as macroeconomic stabilizer, but also in the long term, due to the impacts on human development and productivity,” Ms. Bachelet said. Canada has also signed the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples which outlaws discrimination against them and sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues.

“The obligations laid out in the UN Declaration in 1948 should be seen as essential basic human rights,” said Joe Foster, Human Rights Critic for the Green Party of Canada. “There is no excuse for Canada not implementing them, starting with Aboriginal peoples today.”

As Lorraine Rekmans, Green Party Aboriginal Affairs Critic urged earlier during the celebration of the International Day for Aboriginal Peoples, “We must also recognize that Indigenous cultures are land-based and their preservation relies on the resolution of land conflicts in Canada. We must also resolve to negotiate successful and fair agreements to create a basis for a healthy future for the next generations.”