Northern debate focuses on aboriginal issues

Dave Lazzarino
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Northern Saskatchewan candidates (from left) Conservative incumbent Rob Clarke, Green Party George Morin and NDP Lawrence Joseph prepare for the all candidates forum in Prince Albert Wednesday evening. Topics raised were largely focused on aboriginal issues including education, rights, land claims and residential schools. Herald photo by Dave Lazzarino

PRINCE ALBERT — Three of the four candidates for the northern riding of Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River squared off Wednesday evening at the Senator Allan Bird Memorial Gymnasium in an all candidates forum.

All contenders in the race are of aboriginal descent and topics of discussion focused on issues facing aboriginal, First Nation and Métis communities. But despite the localized focus, strategy managed to somewhat mirror the federal battle taking place: Conservatives rested on their track record, NDP attacked Conservative and Liberal, Green Party bounced between all opinions and inserted the occasional piece of original thought. The only candidate who did not follow a party tack was Liberal Gabe Lafond, who was murmured to have been there at the beginning of the forum but ultimately did not show up.

Of course, there was some constructive debate to be had.

Conservative candidate and incumbent Rob Clarke opened by stressing the importance of jobs and education in the north. He pointed out his party's support of K-12 and the more than $130 million in federal funds he said he has brought to the northern riding.

George Morin or the Green Party followed with criticism for all parties, all of which he has held a card in, saying that they have delivered "a litany of broken promises" to First Nations people and a watering down of Métis rights. He said jails have been built without native issues in mind and added that he has lived the issues and can speak to them best.

New Democrat candidate and former Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations chief Lawrence Joseph began with possibly the most emphatic and condemning speech of the evening, accusing both the Conservatives and the Liberals of being absent for important issues like supporting First Nations University funding and generally neglecting First Nations people. He said the government should be focusing on housing in the north and not jails.

Following introductions, the candidates fielded questions from the roughly 30 people who had gathered to hear the speakers. One attendee asked whether the candidates would support re-introducing the Kelowna Accord, a series of plans to improve the education, employment, and living conditions for Aboriginal peoples through governmental funding and other programs, developed as a campaign promise under the Paul Martin government but not adopted by the Harper government.

Clarke defended his government by saying they have put more than double the $5 billion that the accord would have set aside for First Nations initiatives.

Joseph, on the other hand, said he would not re-introduce the accord. He said it was a good start but felt they could do better. Morin agreed with Joseph and briefly outlined the Green Party dedication to First Nations people.

A series of other topics were raised as well:

Education - Clarke detailed money spent on schools in the past two years; Morin promised to fight for better northern education in Ottawa; and Joseph criticized the cap on education spending, calling it "our buffalo."

Residential schools and language funding - Joseph attacked the Conservative all talk no action approach; Morin echoed that sentiment; and Clarke pointed to the track record of apologies made and money granted.

Land Claims - Morin said First Nations people should not have to claim something that is rightfully theirs to begin with; Joseph stated that every decision, including all future legislation passed, should be based on treaties; and Clarke hailed the Land Claims Tribunal Act as a Conservative success in parliament.

Other than debate topics, people were reminded that advance polls will begin next weekend and voters are encouraged to visit to find out more information on where to vote and what is needed.

The print version of this story inadvertently switched some names. This version has the proper attribution.

Organizations: Conservatives, Green Party, PRINCE ALBERT First Nations University Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations

Geographic location: Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River

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Recent comments

  • Devo
    April 23, 2011 - 00:40

    Looks and hears like LJ put his superb political savvy into action in this debate. Proves that he is the right representative for Northern Saskatchewan. The cop who wants to help his leader build jails for aboriginals should be ashamed! Lawrence is a person who will stand up for the racial oppresion and social injustices we continue to face, Rob likes to brag about his party taking us out of the recession, well sorry Rob but the aboriginal people have been in a recession since the conservative government enforced its cultural genocide on us in the 1800's. The DMCR Constituency is NOT a pure conservative riding, it belongs to the NDP! The only reason conservative have won this riding is because of the marginalized election laws that prevent aboriginals and people in poverty from voting!! So on may 2nd bring ID and vote NDP!

  • Bernie mac two
    April 22, 2011 - 17:25

    And VIKINGSASK-It wasn't the Aboriginals that agreed to be put on Reserves to.Governments wanted Aboriginals far away from civilization.And than they tried to assimilate us, I could on and on what governments tried and continue to do.Well if governments want Aboriginals in mainstream society.As much as we want to,we will never in this lifetime or any time with the same governments.Until the sun shines,grass grows,and rivers flows.So you see we will never get that chance.

  • Bernie mac
    April 22, 2011 - 17:11

    SASKVIKING-That's a good question to have asked P.C Incumbent Rob.Clark.It's thier governments that have signed agreements of MOI with the First Nation peoples to set up casino's to.Although I must add the patrons playing games,buying cigs,liqour,and concessions are paying the same as in ordinary person in there.The only big difference is all or most employees are tax exempted in pay cheques.O.k only the ones that have a First Nations address are,but what's not to say.They could be using a First nations address,and still be living in Urban cities where casino's are built.This is a concern and issue.Because this a discriminatory to those that aren't First Nation decent.And have to pay and are deducted income taxes from paycheques.If this is true you wouldn't have many First Nations employees working there.They're cheques would probably be cut by 1/3.I could be exagerating here thou.Unless someone else will explain this here.I know because I worked there.This only applies to dealers,slots techs,and lower down the scale.I am not sure about those higher on that scale to.Yes,an answer would be in order to explain all this before going to the polls.But getting an answer from the P.C Rob.Clark would or might cost him ,like any other person that tries getting Prime Minister for answer.So you see SaskViking -there would be no answer.That's how the P.C's run.There answers would be I don't know.or -just ask umm.Get what I'm getting at.All must go out to vote against The P.C Harper government.

  • saskviking
    April 21, 2011 - 13:53

    I would like to know where in the treaties it stated that there should be reserves put up in cities to sell gas and cigarettes tax exempt. The treaties were supposed to make life equal for First Nations and people from Europe and Asia. "Reciprocity". This seems to be unfair treatment to all other nationalities, where is the reciprocity in this action. As soon as those vehicles leave the gas station are they using those vehicles exclusively on reserve I think not. Who is paying to do upkeep on our roads if there is no tax paid on fuel purchases? Let alone who is going to pay for the hospital stays for the smokers who can't or won't quit. I hate to sound racist but when I see an unfair advantage go to a group of people that may soon be the majority in our province who will be left to pay for all of these luxuries. Saskatchewan has the most extensive road system in the world with more miles of roadway per capita than anywhere else in the world. This was because of our local "farmers" who put the time and effort into building such an awesome project to get their grain to market. If anything these are the people that should be rewarded by being given a bigger break on their fuel costs to help feed our province and the world.

  • Dennis Strom
    April 21, 2011 - 12:50

    What is the benefit for of holding the candidates debate in Prince Albert----Prince Albert is certainly not in the part of the Desnethe-Missinipi-Churchil Riding. How do voters from the Churchill riding actually get to hear the candidates?

  • Bernard Moosehunter
    April 21, 2011 - 10:55

    Well I would like to ask P.C candidate former Police officer.Why are the R.C.M.P still hanging out in First Nations communities.The First Nations peoples are tired of The R.C.M.P throwing our peoples into jails.Which is why Thier government is planning on building jails.To make more room for our peoples.Jails are exactly like the Residential schools.The Residential school did harms to the students.And Jails are doing harms to the Aboriginals.There's got to be a better approach on combating alcohol,drugs,and domestic abuse plaguing First Nations peoples ,and communities.Not more jails.Another thing that should be addressed,is why aren't governments giving thier fair share of revenues resources with First Nations peoples.I ask First nations peoples to go and vote May 2nd,vote for a true Representive in Ottawa.Let's not split the vote.Vote Lawrence Joseph NDP Candidate.

  • Joe Campbell
    April 21, 2011 - 08:30

    From your picture, there seems to be quite a resemblence between Gabe Lafond and George Morin (middle). This could cause some confusion for voters.