First Na­tions chiefs boo Scheer for not say­ing how he’s dif­fer­ent from Harper

Kingston Whig-Standard - - NATIONAL - JAN­ICE DICK­SON

OT­TAWA — Hun­dreds of First Na­tions chiefs booed Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer on Thurs­day when the op­po­si­tion leader told them they will have to wait un­til his plat­form is re­leased to see how he dif­fers from former prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper.

He was speak­ing to a meet­ing of As­sem­bly of First Na­tions chiefs in a down­town Ot­tawa ho­tel.

Dur­ing a ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion with the op­po­si­tion leader, chiefs asked Scheer how he’s dif­fer­ent from Harper, with one ask­ing him to name one pol­icy stance he holds that’s dif­fer­ent from Harper’s and an­other ask­ing how he plans to re­build trust with First Na­tions peo­ple that “Harper lost.”

Chief Elaine John­ston of Ser­pent River First Na­tion in north­ern On­tario told Scheer that First Na­tions peo­ple have not had pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships with Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ments, in­clud­ing the new On­tario gov­ern­ment.

“My con­cern here is when you’re talk­ing about the spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, what are you go­ing to do in that spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent than your pre­de­ces­sors in the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment? I need to hear that be­cause I’m not see­ing it. The rhetoric is there, but there has not been pos­i­tive ac­tion,” she said.

Jes­sica Ja­cobs, a coun­cil­lor for Ta’an Kwach’an Coun­cil in the Yukon, asked Scheer flatly how he feels about Indige­nous peo­ple and is­sues and how he plans to try to fix the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Con­ser­va­tive party and Indige­nous peo­ple in Canada.

“First two ques­tions were kind of sim­i­lar ... the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween my­self and the pre­vi­ous Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment specif­i­cally when it comes to pol­icy. So on that I am go­ing to have to ask you to have a lit­tle bit of pa­tience for when our plat­form gets re­leased,” Scheer said, and was hit by the wave of boos.

Scheer quickly added that Indige­nous peo­ple will see change. In the last elec­tion the Con­ser­va­tives did not win sup­port from a large ma­jor­ity of First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple and he wants to fix that, he said. “Part of that is com­ing to these kinds of meet­ings, in a re­spect­ful way.”

But Scheer did sug­gest his party would seek to pro­tect and pro­mote Indige­nous lan­guages, say­ing he and AFN Na­tional Chief Perry Bel­le­garde have al­ready talked about that.

That will be part of a whole seg­ment of the Con­ser­va­tive party’s elec­tion plat­form, said Scheer, which he vowed would not be crafted only by his in­ner cir­cle.

But though he sidestepped a de­tailed ac­count of whether and how he will be dif­fer­ent from Harper, Scheer promised his ap­proach would be dif­fer­ent from the Lib­er­als.

“I’d be happy to come back at a fu­ture time and ex­plain more de­tailed aspects of what we’ll be cam­paign­ing on, but it will be a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the Lib­er­als. It will be an ap­proach that’s based on get­ting the re­la­tion­ship right, but also get­ting re­sults,” he said. “You talked about what we’re go­ing to do to over­come the re­la­tion­ship chal­lenges that we may have had in the past. It is frus­trat­ing for me as a Con­ser­va­tive when I think about the great things that we did do in terms of poli­cies.”

He said it was a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment that rec­og­nized Indige­nous rights and ex­tended the vote to First Na­tions peo­ple and a Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment ap­pointed the first First Na­tions sen­a­tor. He also raised Harper’s apol­ogy in the House of Com­mons that ac­knowl­edged the legacy of the res­i­den­tial-school sys­tem.

“So we have these lega­cies but clearly when you don’t have the re­la­tion­ship right ... of­ten tan­gi­ble re­sults get over­looked or at least get viewed in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Scheer said the big hur­dle for the Con­ser­va­tive party is to get that re­la­tion­ship back on track so the party and Indige­nous peo­ple can work more closely to­gether “in that spirit of trust.”

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