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The native file


First Nations across Canada are eager to see how a new Liberal government will treat aboriginal issues.

That’s not surprising, considering how dismissive the Harper government has been with the file.

But that doesn’t mean the Conservatives didn’t try.

One of their practical — but perhaps not popular — moves was to implement the First Nations Financial Transparency Act in 2013.

This was done in part to satisfy native band members, for whom the financial dealings of their councils are often a mystery.

The Conservatives also tried to address issues such as education and native rights with respect to natural resources.

But they did so in a vacuum, with little to no serious negotiation with the parties involved. When frustrations boiled over a couple of years ago, the Conservatives took a tough, take-it-or-leave-it stance.

The question now is whether prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau will try to pick up where Paul Martin left off. Just days before his Liberal government fell in November 2005, Martin, the premiers and native leaders signed the Kelowna Accord, an ambitious attempt to bring aboriginal standards of living in sync with those of other Canadians. In the first five years of the 10-year plan, Ottawa would have spent $5 billion to address everything from health to education to infrastructure.

The Conservatives basically disowned the accord, contributing nowhere near the recommended funding.

Can Trudeau afford to reconsider such huge cash infusions given the current poor economy — even taking his confessed predilection for deficit spending into account? That remains to be seen.

We can be fairly certain he won’t adopt his late father’s philosophy from 1969, when then prime minister Pierre Trudeau and his Indian Affairs minister Jean Chrétien presented a white paper essentially calling for assimilation. From that shaky start, things improved, culminating in the inclusion of aboriginal rights in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

One matter Trudeau has firmly promised to settle is the residential school fiasco in this province. Prosecutors continue to drag it through the court system, even as Trudeau has promised to settle with those who fell through the cracks through a technicality.

That, at least, would be a show of compassion rarely in evidence from the outgoing administration.

Let’s hope the wait is not long.

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