Trudeau hits the re­set but­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT -

It was June 2015, and Justin Trudeau, then leader of the third party and strug­gling in the polls, made what was seen by many at the time as a rather im­pul­sive prom­ise.

He quickly pledged to im­ple­ment all 94 rec­om­men­da­tions of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion that had been re­leased that day by Jus­tice Mur­ray Sin­clair.

Mon­day, more than 26 months af­ter his pledge of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, a United Na­tions com­mit­tee on the elim­i­na­tion of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion re­ported it was “alarmed” that the Trudeau gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to ig­nore mul­ti­ple de­ci­sions by the Cana­dian Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal to close the gap in funding for child and fam­ily ser­vices of Indige­nous chil­dren.

Also Mon­day, Trudeau ar­rived at Rideau Hall and an­nounced he would dis­solve the “creaky old struc­tures” of the Indige­nous and North­ern Af­fairs depart­ment, an­nounced plans to kill the In­dian Act and put one of his most trusted min­is­ters into one of two new Indige­nous port­fo­lios.

Are we about to wit­ness yet an­other gap be­tween ex­pec­ta­tions and delivery?

There could be no loftier goal than Indige­nous rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment de­serves credit for mak­ing it a pri­or­ity.

But there can be no tougher task for a gov­ern­ment than try­ing to undo his­tory, toss off the yoke of colo­nial­ism, address griev­ances and mis­trust and de­liver much-needed ser­vices quickly while deal­ing with an en­trenched bu­reau­cracy. All are needed to ef­fect real change. When ex­pec­ta­tions col­lide with re­al­ity things can ac­tu­ally get worse.

Trudeau ei­ther made his­tory Mon­day or made an ad­mis­sion that, mid-man­date, true rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and timely delivery of ser­vices re­main as elu­sive as ever.

Trudeau would never say the lat­ter, but he did con­cede it would come as no sur­prise “that there are real chal­lenges in terms of chang­ing a re­la­tion­ship and im­prov­ing a re­la­tion­ship and ser­vices that have foundered for decades, if not cen­turies.”

Hay­den King, an Anishi­naabe ed­u­ca­tor in the Fac­ulty of Arts at Ry­er­son Univer­sity, told me there is a con­cern that this move is just an­other Lib­eral sym­bol that will be “wrap­ping us up in process.”

Prom­ises have been heard and dis­carded for decades. Un­der this gov­ern­ment, the prom­ises are yard­sticks that al­low Indige­nous lead­ers to push for ac­count­abil­ity.

“I never in­vest in any hope in a Cana­dian gov­ern­ment,” King says, “be­cause there is a moun­tain of em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence that gov­ern­ments since 1867 have been act­ing to ex­tin­guish Indige­nous rights and com­mu­ni­ties.”

Then there is Cindy Black­stock and her re­lent­less fight to pro­vide fair­ness for Indige­nous chil­dren.

She took the gov­ern­ment to the hu­man rights tri­bunal and won in Fe­bru­ary 2016. The tri­bunal ruled that Ot­tawa dis­crim­i­nated against Indige­nous chil­dren by un­der­fund­ing child wel­fare ser­vices and not pro­vid­ing the same level of health care on re­serves as the rest of the coun­try.

In re­sponse, the Lib­er­als have spent more than $700,000 fight­ing the orig­i­nal or­der and three sub­se­quent non­com­pli­ance or­ders, ac­cord­ing to num­bers ob­tained by NDP lead­er­ship can­di­date Char­lie An­gus.

In June, the gov­ern­ment took the tri­bunal to Fed­eral Court over a rul­ing that linked in­ad­e­quate health care to two sui­cides of 12year-old girls in Wapekeka First Na­tion.

“I look at this from a kid’s per­spec­tive,” Black­stock said. “In­stead of help­ing me, Justin Trudeau is ac­tu­ally vi­o­lat­ing the law to thwart me. What kind of mes­sage is that send­ing to kids?”

The min­is­ters in­volved in that chal­lenge are Carolyn Ben­nett and Jane Philpott, the two min­is­ters ap­pointed to the Indige­nous files by Trudeau Mon­day.

The good news is that Philpott, as the min­is­ter of Indige­nous ser­vices, said her first pri­or­ity would be child and fam­ily ser­vices and health care.

The bet­ter news is that this is a woman who is not only com­pas­sion­ate, but highly com­pe­tent and clearly tough enough to deal with a bu­reau­cracy if her hard­ball ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tics with the prov­inces on health care funding are any gauge.

The best news is that Philpott is not a woman who will want to pre­side over more sym­bolic ac­tions. A woman of sub­stance will want to de­liver sub­stance.

Tim Harper writes on na­tional af­fairs. His com­men­tary ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

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