This election, Indigenous policies have gained prominence as reconciliation becomes a national debate. The parties’ policies on Indigenous issues have not been presented with all the pomp of affordability plans. Rather, some argue the sparse policies hide inaction on the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
Along a similar vein, it can be argued that promises like eliminating boil advisories are important, but are simply fulfilling Canada’s commitment to protecting basic human rights. All the parties have generally avoided addressing the central issue of land rights and sovereignty – more controversial, but no less important, than those issues that are being addressed.
An ongoing part of the Liberals’ platform on Indigenous policy has involved emphasizing that they reduced the number of long-term boil water advisories on reserves and plan to bring the number advisories down to zero by March 2021.
The party also finished their term by wrapping up the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The Liberals are promising to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Indigenous Languages Act, and improve infrastructure on reserves.
Furthermore, within their plan, they make distinctions between the needs of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples, despite the two former not having the same status under Canadian law. They also plan to support First Nations-led processes to allow communities and the government to transition out of the Indian Act – though no timeline is provided for this transition.
Trudeau’s biggest hurdle arrived in the second week of October when the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the government to pay compensation to First Nations children who were placed in the child welfare system, which could total up to $8 billion. In a move supported by Andrew Scheer but criticized by Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May, the Liberals decided to file for judicial review in hopes of paying a smaller settlement to First Nations children.
Unlike the Liberals, the Conservatives do not have a section of their online platform dedicated to Indigneous policy. Andrew Scheer has stated, however, that a Conservative government would place economic prosperity in Indigenous communities among their priorities, engage in review of the Indian Act, and create a national action plan to implement the National Inquiry.
On Indigenous policy however, the Conservatives will be battling the reputation made by Stephen Harper, under whom the Idle No More movement was created in response to Conservative policies. Much like Trudeau, Scheer continues to support the Trans Mountain Expansion Project despite opposition from some nations on its planned route.
The New Democratic Party
The NDP has put forward the most detailed plan with regards to Indigenous issues. Their promises overlap with the Liberal and Green platforms, but in more specific terms. Key to overseeing all the proposed Indigenous policies will be a National Reconciliation Council. Singh also criticised Elizabeth May’s proposal to make SNC-Lavalin repair the drinking water infrastructure on reserves as a form of community service.
The Green Party
Beyond criticism for her comments on SNC-Lavalin, May has also proposed a ten-year timeline to eliminate the Indian Act – essentially committing reserves to developing their own governance systems within the decade. Compounding this is the fact that May has only spoken about the Indian Act 23 times since 2011 and only twice in parliament this year, making it difficult to understand her degree of commitment to the issue. However, May was the only leader to make land acknowledgements during the official debates.
The Bloc Québécois
As always, the Bloc promises a Québec-centered platform. Their focus is on implementing the recommendations of the recently concluded Viens Commission. The Bloc also considers themselves an ally of Indigenous peoples and plans to implement UNDRIP. Despite these statements, the importance of Indigenous issues in the province is questionable as Premier Legault recently failed to attend a nation-to-nation meeting. Furthermore, their secessionist project opens a complicated mix of claims to the land.
The People’s Party of Canada
Maxime Bernier’s party has four elements to its Indigenous policy: explore options to replace and transition away from the Indian Act, implement private property rights on reserves, close the services gap between the rest of Canada and reserves, and review federal spending on Indigenous policy. Given the vague wording in the parties’ Indigenous policy and tweets from Bernier himself, critics are concerned that the parties’ policy lacks the focus on healing, inclusion, and respect needed for reconciliation.
Edited by Eyitayo Kunle-Oladosu.
This article is part of a week-long series on the parties and their platforms ahead of the 2019 Canadian general election. See here for the rest of our election coverage. For information on how to vote on October 21st, click here.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Cover photo designed by Lauren Hill.