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This article was published 7/7/2015 (1622 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA – The two main opposition party leaders took their first big swings at wooing the First Nations’ electorate this afternoon as First Nations leaders ramp up a campaign to try and oust the Conservatives from power.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau addressed the Assembly of First Nations general assembly in back-to-back speeches which both pledged to deliver a new nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous people in Canada.
Both leaders pledged to close funding gaps for education, call a national inquiry for murdered and missing indigenous women, adhere to the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and fundamentally change how Ottawa works with First Nations.
Mulcair pledged a cabinet-level committee, led by himself, to review every government decisions to ensure it respects treaty rights and UNDRIP.
"I believe it’s time for a new era," said Mulcair. "One that embraces a true nation-to-nation relationship, built on respect, and above all, makes meaningful progress when It comes to bringing about change."
Trudeau said the Liberals will develop a Federal Reconciliation Framework, to ensure government work respects treaties and UNDRIP, and will review all the legislation introduced by the current government for the same. If the new laws don’t respect aboriginal rights they will be scrapped, said Trudeau.
"A renewed relationship will also set us on the path to the responsible economic growth we all need and the shared future prosperity we all deserve," said Trudeau.
The two leaders are vying for thousands of votes, on and off reserve, to help them come out on top come Oct. 19.
These are votes Perry Bellegarde, the grand chief of the AFN, says can significantly influence the result.
"I want us to mobilize the vote," Bellegarde said in a speech to delegates at the AFN assembly Tuesday. "We can make a different in at least 51 ridings. Fifty-one."
He said that includes ensuring people have proper identification to vote, and also spending time in the next few months influencing the party platforms.
"We know that the federal candidates will be out on the barbecue circuit this summer. I hope to see you in some of their photos, influencing the platforms."
Six of those 51 ridings are in Manitoba – Churchill and Winnipeg Centre, held by the NDP, Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa, Elmwood-Transcona, and Winnipeg South Centre, held by the Conservatives and Winnipeg North, held by the Liberals. Of those six, Elmwood-Transcona and Winnipeg South Centre are believed to be the most competitive races in the upcoming election.
Bellegarde has been critical of the Conservative government for but he is restricted by the AFN’s non-partisan status and won’t go as far as to say it should be defeated in the next election.
Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, had no such restrictions on him and had no trouble saying he wants the Conservatives voted out.
"I’m certainly looking for a change in government," he told the Free Press in an interview from Montreal.
Nepinak said there is clearly no more negotiating or relationship that can be built with this government, a fact that has been clear to him since 2012 when chiefs tried to force their way into the House of Commons demanding to be heard by the government.
The Conservatives are the only major party that won’t be attending the AFN assembly, and Nepinak says as far as he knows Prime Minister Stephen Harper has never attended, either before or since he moved into the PMO.
"The line is clearly drawn here," said Nepinak. "We are trying to make a difference. We’ve become a powerful political force."
Nepinak said he hasn’t yet determined whether he thinks the Liberals or the NDP are the better option and wouldn’t say publicly unless or until the chiefs of Manitoba give him such a mandate.
He said both Trudeau and Mulcair clearly have a solid grasp of the issues in play, and have listened to what they have been told.
"They’ve done their homework," he said.
He did say he was inclined to prefer some of Trudeau’s content because it was more specific than Mulcair. Although both leaders discussed investing in education, called for a public inquiry on murdered and missing indigenous women, and specified the need to ensure the survival of indigenous languages, Trudeau’s speech went into more detail.
Nepinak said Trudeau specifically called for an end to the two per cent funding increase cap on First Nations programs that has been in place for at least 20 years, and promised actual dollars for programs to "promote, preserve and enhance" indigenous languages and cultures. Nepinak said he thinks it is incredibly "profound" for Trudeau to recognize the importance of indigenous languages.
The NDP however were dismayed at the length of Trudeau’s speech saying he went on longer than he was supposed to.
Each were given a 40-minute window for their appearance at the AFN but that was to include a 15-minute speech with the rest reserved for questions from the audience.
Mulcair’s speech, at 1,850 words, was less than half the length of Trudeau’s 3,700-word address.
Mulcair took three questions from the audience, but his 40 minutes was shorter than expected because he was late to start. An NDP staffer said Mulcair was being "mobbed" by fans as he tried to enter the room to give his speech.
Trudeau’s speech was so long he didn’t have time to take questions, however Trudeau did speak to the media in a press conference after the event, and Mulcair did not.
The two parties have sniped back and forth at each other over who is better on indigenous issues for months. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission closing events in June, Mulcair was the only party leader to attend the release of the executive summary report and recommendations. Trudeau was not there, something the NDP were happy to point out.
Mulcair’s director of communications also took to Twitter Tuesday to say he felt Trudeau didn’t get as much applause as Mulcair did at the AFN.
Trudeau’s speech Tuesday was clear to say he was in attendance at the closing events of that week, as he noted he planned to tell his children one day that our belief in Canada as a generous and fair country has not always been the case.