Money in the bank? Not yet.
Even though we voted by the tune of 90 per cent to accept a new relationship agreement with the federal government, one that will see $ I.4 billion in compensation paid out over 20 years, events in the Canadian capital could still derail the deal.
That’s because the minority Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is doing everything it can to get defeated in the House of Commons, and plunge Canada into a general election. If that happens, all bets are off.
You remember what happened to the $5 billion Kelowna Accord, which was negotiated by the Liberals under Paul Martin. Even before Harper had finished moving his hockey card collection into 24 Sussex Drive after his election in 2006, the deal wrangled the previous fall by AFN National Chief Phil Fontaine to improve Aboriginal life across Canada was nothing more than a forgotten pile of paper in the recycling bins behind Parliament Hill.
So it goes with the Europeans who rule this beautiful land. On Tuesday, Harper gave us a nice little nod in the Speech from the Throne, read out by Governor General Michaëlle Jean. In it, he called Canada “a society that is protective of the spirit of this bountiful land, a deep respect learnt from Aboriginal peoples.”
A lovely phrase, that, if radically untrue. Indeed, it is little more than condescending rhetoric coined by Harper’s speechwriter to soften this government’s image as it prepares to go to the polls.
That’s because the only purpose of this Throne Speech was to trigger an election by getting the opposition parties to vote against it and thereby defeat the government. And with right-wing planks on law-and-order, scrapping the Kyoto Accord and their stated intent to prolong Canada’s role in the Afghan war at significant cost of blood and treasure, there was plenty for the opposition parties to oppose.
The NDR riding high after stealing the riding of Outremont in a by-election in September, are game. The Bloc, after supporting the war fighting in Afghanistan and having propped up the government on many other occasions, have decided they can no longer be seen to support the Conservatives. That leaves the hapless Liberals, once Canada’s so-called Natural Governing Party.
The Tories believe they can take advantage of a Liberal Party that is deeply unpopular in Quebec and steal enough seats here to scrape up a majority government. The Liberals of Stéphane Dion, divided and in disarray, have wisely managed to avoid that trap. But for how long? Will this government survive past March 2008, when our new relationship agreement is due to be voted on by the House of Commons?
That vote is necessary before any cash changes hands. So, until then, the Crees are in limbo and the Grand Council will probably be sitting on pins and needles. Given our history since colonialism began, and given the fact that this deal was reached as compensation for Ottawa’s refusal to respect an agreement signed in 1975 (the JBNQA), it’s a fair question to ask: would a new government honour the deal?
More fair questions: If the Tories win a majority, would they give in to their looney-tune fringe on the far right and its assimilationist goals? In the admittedly unlikely event that Dion’s Liberal Party regained power, would they feel compelled to reject an agreement negotiated by the hated Tories? Would they be tempted to gain revenge for the scrapped Kelowna Accord, which would have been the one significant achievement of Paul Martin’s mostly wasted time in office?
We are yet confident that Ottawa, this time at least, will do the right thing. But until we see real cash in the bank, beware of wooden nickels and take nothing for granted.