Trudeau Betrayed First Nations

August 1st, 2017 | M. Menuck
trudeau first nations

Closing in on two years into his mandate, it is fair to say Justin Trudeau has reneged on many of the promises that got him elected. To a degree this is unexpected. In 2015, he entered the election as an underdog with few expecting him to achieve the out-of-nowhere majority government he eventually achieved. This lack of expectation of any follow-through freed him to make many promises secure in the knowledge he would probably not be called upon to actually fulfill them.

Unfortunately for Trudeau, it transpired that he did win and, once in office, reality soon reared its ugly head against many of the promises he had made to the Canadian electorate. Four modest deficits of under ten billion a year (to be erased by the end of his first mandate) have morphed into annual additions to the debt of many times that, with even the Finance Minister admitting that no end is in sight. The pledge that 2015 would be the last election ever contested under the Westminster system of First-Past-The-Post wilted once it became clear that Trudeau’s preferred option of ranked ballots was a non-starter with the opposition parties. Canadian fighter jets were pulled from the fight against ISIS in the Middle East, but our contribution to troops on the ground has intensified (with all the risks that are associated with it).

Of all Trudeau’s lapsed promises, however, the most condemnable has to be the ones he made to Canada's First Nations. Trudeau promised to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in its entirety before having even read the final wording of it; when he did so it turned out that his declaration had been premature and, in fact, the resolution would not be adopted into Canadian law after all. Trudeau pledged to initiate a public commission and inquiry into missing Canadian First Nations women. Months later, the commission is mired in scandal as its leading members have quit in protest over it being little more than the public photo op that its critics always alleged it would be.

Canada owes a debt to its First Nations. Admitting this does not mean buying into the rhetoric of the community’s most militant members, with their talk of settlor culture and demands we tear down monuments to the country’s founding fathers, but instead the simple acknowledgement that a segment of our society has been historically mistreated and still lives in a state of poverty and squalor that would be wished upon no one. Our ancestors took their ancestors’ lands because we wanted them, and we had better weapons and technology, and admitting that we owe it to today’s natives to allow them to share in our current prosperity is simply the decent thing to do.

Unfortunately, we have done a very poor job of this over our history as a nation. A succession of governments have all come to power in recent decades all promising to better the lot of our country’s First Nations, and results each time have been negligible at best. Indigenous Canadians remain trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty, drugs, and child abuse that simply continues to be passed down from generation to generation and the endless stream of accords, commissions, and inquiries by various governments never seems to have any meaningful impact one way or another.

That is what makes Trudeau’s backpedaling on the First Nations’ file truly more scandalous than his other reversals. For better or for worse, in the 2015 election Justin Trudeau managed to convince a good number of indigenous Canadians that this time it would be different, this time there might just be someone who would actually follow through and do something to better their very miserable lot. Dashing the hopes of a group that have already been let down time and time again is not just condemnable, but in fact reprehensible.

Any meaningful solution to the problems of the First Nations would be incredibly complex and unquestioningly controversial. Many truths considered to be sacrosanct would have to be outed as lies. It would have to begin by acknowledging that it would require wholesale reform of the entire way in which native issues are dealt with in this country, including repeal of the Indian Act and the end of the reservation system. This would doubtlessly invoke an intense backlash, not the least of which would come from those in the native community that have a vested interest in maintaining the current system (the fact that many band council leaders are probably the only ones that make out well under the status quo is one of the many unspeakable truths no one dare utter aloud). The idea that Justin Trudeau, the walking haircut whose sole quality seems to be a talent for mouthing feel-good cliches that simply tell people what they want to hear, would be able to deliver this is laughable.

Future aspirants to the office of Prime Minister would do well to learn from this, and acknowledge that providing genuine help to Canadian First Nations will require steely resolve and a willingness to accept a great deal of heat. Doing nothing is often innately preferable to making promises you cannot deliver. In the case of Canada’s First Nations, they likely would have been far better served if this was the route Mr. Trudeau had chosen to take.