Today's Crown First Nations Gathering was supposed to be historic. It would mark the first occasion since he became prime minister in 2006 that Stephen Harper would meet with First Nations leaders. So there was quite a bit of negative publicity when it was learned that Harper intended to leave the summit early. In order to counter that, an extra meeting was hastily convened yesterday evening between Harper and his minister of aboriginal affairs and the most senior of First Nations leaders.
I don't think it accomplished what the government was hoping for. Here's the headline on the APTN story reporting on the meeting: Harper tells chiefs they should contact their MPs.
So a prime minister who has been happy to continue with the trend of recent decades — to concentrate power in the PMO and turn MPs into bit players who stand up on cue and vote the way they're told — has just told First Nations leaders to talk to
the hand the bit players.
Here's how the meeting was reported by someone who attended.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said there were about 45 people in the room, including chiefs, elders, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan and his Parliamentary Secretary Greg Rickford.
Harper opened the meeting saying he was there to listen.
"I was extremely proud of some of the profoundly powerful statements made by some of the elders, grand chiefs and regional chiefs that were in the room," said Phillip. "In the end we waited for the response from the prime minister, which was very, very brief, almost disappointingly brief."
Phillip said the prime minister basically told chiefs that he couldn't just focus on their issues because he had to run the country.
"He did make a point of saying basically that, as the prime minister of Canada, he had many, many other issues. He talked about the great responsibility and many interests on this 'great ship of state' as he described the country," said Phillip. "Quite astonishingly...at the very end he was recommending we go home and talk to our MPs."
After all the talk about historic summits and new beginnings, Harper made it all about himself. He brushed off the First Nations leadership by telling them that he's just too busy to pay attention to their issues because governing is hard work. (And who does that remind you of?)
That better be some powerful speech he makes this morning or all of this may have just made things worse, not better.