Idle No More protesters gather on Parliament Hill as MPs arrive back
Published Monday, January 28, 2013 11:04AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 28, 2013 11:21PM EST
Hundreds of Idle No More protesters rallied on Parliament Hill on Monday, welcoming MPs back to work after the six-week winter break with demands for action on native rights.
Roughly 300 protesters -- many drumming, chanting or dancing and carrying First Nations flags -- braved heavy snowfall to gather in the capital, in addition to countless others across Canada, as part of a global day of action.
Demonstrators are urging the Conservative government to forge a new relationship with aboriginals and address longstanding treaty issues. They also want the government to reconsider two contentious pieces of legislation: Bill C-45 and Bill C-38, which they say erode environmental protections and aboriginal rights.
On Monday morning, however, Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said the Tories will stay focused on the economy and law-and-order issues, and the spring budget will be the centrepiece of the government's efforts in the coming weeks.
Van Loan said the Conservative government also plans to prioritize legislation to promote jobs and growth in the coming weeks.
Law and order bills will also be on the agenda. This includes legislation that would make it easier to deport foreign criminals, a bill that would improve RCMP accountability, and legislation to strengthen the rules for violent offenders found not criminally responsible for crimes because of mental defect.
The two omnibus budget bills are not up for discussion, he said, telling CTV’s Power Play that some of the “structural changes” contained in the budget implementation bills “have to do actually with the exact same things that are going to result in tremendous economic opportunity and job prospects for First Nations, for aboriginals in Canada, and economic opportunities for aboriginal-run companies. Because we’re looking at being able to harness those resources and they tend to be located in Canada in close proximity to where First Nations live.”
Van Loan added that in less resource-rich areas where economic opportunities are not as abundant, “we’re going to be creating a lot more. So in that sense what we’ve done is something that very much advances that agenda for First Nations.”
Earlier Monday, Van Loan said First Nations peoples will benefit from a reduction in the amount of "excessive red tape" necessary for resource development project approvals, but added such benefits were long-term and would not happen overnight.
New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash, an aboriginal from northern Quebec, disagreed.
"I guess we don't see those bills in the same light," he said Monday.
Saganash said First Nations should have been consulted on the two bills, which affect environmental protections and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Saganash said he planned to introduce a private member's bill Monday requiring that all new federal laws comply with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a non-binding declaration to which Canada is a signatory. Saganash was a key architect of the UN declaration.
In question period Monday, Saganash accused the government of neglecting its obligations under the declaration.
“Why did the Conservatives endorse this declaration in 2010 and then ignore it? The Conservatives’ inaction has been criticized by First Nations in other communities from coast to coast to coast,” Saganash said in the House.
“The NDP is listening, the NDP values consultation. My bill ensures that our laws are consistent with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Will the prime minister and the minister agree to support this important initiative?”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said the government is “proud of our record” on issues such as boosting transparency, settling land claims and expanding job counselling and mentorship programs.
“(We) will continue to support First Nations so they can achieve the prosperity they deserve,” Duncan said.
If Saganash's bill were to pass -- which is unlikely since the Conservatives have a majority in Parliament -- First Nations would have to be consulted, by law, on any legislation that affects them.
On Power Play, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair urged the prime minister to create a cabinet committee to determine “what has to be done and start moving forward piece by piece.”
Liberal interim leader Bob Rae also addressed reporters Monday, saying Van Loan is over-simplifying the issue.
"It's clear Mr. Van Loan doesn't get it. We're only going to get major resource development in the north of this country if we have a better working relation with First Nations peoples across this country."
Rae also pressed the issue in question period.
“Can the prime minister tell us what further action is he going to take and what change is he going to introduce that will in fact end the sense that the aboriginal population in Canada is being marginalized by the policies of the government of Canada?” Rae asked.
Harper replied the government is committed to making progress on issues of importance to First Nations communities to ensure they “have unprecedented opportunities in the generations to come.”