A First Nation Xmas Present

Share Button

You have to hand it to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He always manages to tick off everything on his Christmas wish list. Even after receiving a wall of criticism over bills such as the First Nation Financial Transparency Act, he still used a loophole and a Conservative to make it a reality.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, at least for Harper. This time, unfortunately, the toy-making elf is a First Nations MP from Saskatchewan, Rob Clarke. There’s no accident he was the backbench Tory tabbed to present this legislation, Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act, as a private member’s bill. It was wrapped with a bow for little Stephen and became law on December 16.

The holiday season timing gave Harper and his newest First Nations’ mouthpiece a break from negative media coverage over the law’s content and the manner in which it was slipped through Parliament.

Anyone in “Indian” country recognizes the need for an overhaul of the Indian Act. But there is a Supreme Court decision or two that says there is a duty to consult with First Nations on legislation that affects this country’s First Peoples. It also managed to avoid constitutional review before being passed by the Conservative majority.

This is a hallmark of the Harper method. Because it was introduced as a private member’s bill it is not automatically subject to this process as it would have been had it been a government bill, which it obviously was in reality. When a minister proposes legislation, departmental lawyers and policy experts must vet it before being introduced in Parliament. Even though any casual observer can see that the Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act reflected Conservative policy, it avoided review by being presented as a private member’s bill. The fact that Harper chose one of his few Aboriginal MPs to do so is just the cherry on the sundae.

We’ve seen this time and again. Conservative MPs or senators have succeeded in getting 20 private members’ bills since Harper was elected. It’s not a rarity, but with the Harper government, these bills contain substantial legislation with massive impacts on the lives of Canadians.

That’s why the real job of Parliament is often being moved to the courts after the bills become law. As NDP MP Randall Garrison noted, “I think we’re in for some confusing court time as a result of the government using the private member’s bills this way.”

Ned Franks, considered one of the country’s experts in parliamentary procedure, observed that private members’ bills are “very useful tools for pushing reform that goes against the general opinion, and they have been.” Franks added that strong public opposition to these changes can be blunted because whoever is in power “can always say these are not government bills – they are private members’ bills. Surely private members have a right to express their views?”

Harper’s second show of political smarts was getting a First Nations MP to claim ownership of it.

When the NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic MP Jean Crowder said it has to be Aboriginal led, Clarke responded strongly with, “Hold on there – I’m Native, I’m First Nations, why can’t I do this? We do have to start looking at a better relationship.”

While many decry the highhandedness of the Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act, as I do, I do have to give Harper credit for finding and grooming a replacement for his earlier Aboriginal Uncle Tomahawk, Senator Patrick Brazeau. Using a false front to achieve your ends is not what I want or expect from Canada’s leadership. It is deceitful and anti-democratic and further proof that Canadians are losing our voice in our government and future.

Share Button

Comments are closed.