Having spent the day working with native and non-native constituents in his riding, MP Rob Clarke expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the day’s high-profile meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and First Nations leaders in Ottawa.
“I think it was very productive,” Clarke said. “What you’ve seen is the government working with willing First Nations chiefs from across Canada to really look at improving living standards and economic opportunities for First Nations and our commitment to address those needs.”
His reference to “willing” chiefs was not accidental. Clarke used the term to differentiate native leaders who met with Harper from Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who boycotted the meeting due to the absence of Gov.-Gen. David Johnston.
“We’re working with willing First Nations partners, and it’s her choice not to participate,” Clarke said. “We’re concerned and hopefully she takes care and monitors her health, and hopefully she’ll see the need to participate -- not only for herself, but for her community as well.”
Following Friday’s meeting, the government has pledged to hold another summit with First Nations leadership in a few weeks.
Clarke praised Harper for his willingness to reach out to native leaders.
“What you’ve seen is the prime minister’s involvement right from the very onset of the meetings that took place today -- where he made the commitment to meet with them for an hour and he ended up staying for the entire day listening to the concerns from the First Nations leaders -- and addressing our commitment from our government to start a special committee from the cabinet to sit down with the First Nations leaders in two to three weeks’ time to address a further dialogue to look at a direction that we can continue … to address some of the issues,” Clarke said.
One of 11 sitting MPs of First Nations origin, Clarke previously introduced Bill C-428, the Indian Act Amendment and Replacement Act, last June. The private member’s bill is currently headed to committee.
Organizers of the Idle No More movement have since come out against Bill C-428 out of fear that reform of the Indian Act will mean an end to special status for First Nations.
What you’ve seen is the government working with willing First Nations chiefs from across Canada to really look at improving living standards and economic opportunities for First Nations and our commitment to address those needs. - MP Rob Clarke
“I’m not going to get consensus on everyone,” Clarke said of the controversy. “What I’m trying to do is start a process to look at the Indian Act and to look at ways of trying to improve economic opportunities for First Nations, but most of all allow First Nations leaders to form their own bylaws on First Nations reserves.
“It’s a very simple bill, but the one thing that I’m trying to do is start a dialogue on a year-by-year basis to address changes to the Indian Act in consultation with First Nations and go from there.”
The current focus of Idle No More supporters, however, is Bill C-45. Clarke argued that there was a great deal of misinformation about the bill floating around in the public discourse.
As an example, he pointed to the bill’s changes to land designation.
“It’s an opportunity for First Nations to lease their land,” Clarke said. “It doesn’t give them permission to sell their land, and I think that has to be addressed and that’s the intent.
“This was brought forward by First Nations leaders … I’ve seen this take place in British Columbia, where communities have benefitted just from leasing First Nations land, and it provides a leverage system in place for First Nations to participate in the economics of … Canadian business.”
Regarding changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act that reduced the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada from 2.5 million to 82 and drew sharp criticism from environmentalists, Clarke said the government’s intention was simply to eliminate bureaucratic red tape where shipping lanes for bridges are concerned.
“Ninety-five per cent of all the permits that are issued or requested don’t need the authority (and) can be approved without the bureaucracy,” Clarke said.
“We’re very cognisant of the environment,” he added.