Tories to ignore Parliament's Kelowna Accord vote
Published Thursday, March 22, 2007 8:40AM EDT
OTTAWA - Parliament has voted to resurrect a $5.1-billion program for First Nations health, education and housing but the minority Conservative government will ignore the measure.
A private member's bill requiring the Canadian government to "fulfil its obligations under the Kelowna Accord,'' easily passed in the House of Commons by a 176-126 vote on Wednesday.
But private member's bills cannot compel the government of the day to spend money, and the Conservatives insist they are charting their own course.
Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and New Democrat MPs supported en masse the bill initiated by former prime minister Paul Martin. Conservatives were uniformly opposed.
The vote came two days after the Tories tabled a federal budget that dedicated few new resources to Canada's First Nations.
While all parties agree on the sorry plight of many native Canadians -- particularly on isolated northern reserves -- is a national embarrassment, there is no consensus on how to tackle their long-standing problems.
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice insists that with more than $9 billion a year already dedicated to native affairs, more federal cash is not the answer.
"Money is not really the problem,'' Prentice said recently.
Martin, who counted the Kelowna agreement as the crowning achievement of his short, two-year stint as prime minister, has called the accord "a historic opportunity'' that should not be squandered.
"It's wrong for the current government to turn what is essentially a moral issue into partisan gamesmanship,'' Martin said last week.
Brian Mulroney, the former Conservative prime minister, also expressed support for the accord on the weekend.
"We've existed for 140 years and we have this shameful situation . . . and why?'' Mulroney said on the program The Next Great Prime Minister. "Very simple: we stole their land.''
Mulroney said he "absolutely'' supports the Kelowna agreement.
The Kelowna Accord was signed by federal, provincial and native leaders just before the election call in December 2005 that brought Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives to power.
The five-year deal had been hammered out over 18 months of negotiations and included federal-provincial agreements on the provision of education, housing and health services, along with benchmarks for tracking progress.
Even at the time of the signing, however, some of the difficult details on sorting out health-care delivery had yet to be resolved.