If Canadians are as concerned as they claim to be about the increasing number of unmarked graves found near former residential schools, the 2021 federal election will be pivotal. Each of the major political parties displays a clear track record exposing their views on Indigenous issues, both domestically and abroad.
It is important to note that the residential school apology on June 11, 2008, was unanimously approved in Parliament and that all party leaders at the time gave what was in essence their party’s official stand on the issue.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, acknowledged the failures of previous governments and said that he was sorry. He also supported several acts of reconciliation, including initiating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
Many forget the discourse of Stephane Dion, who was the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He not only apologized but he also acknowledged the role his party played in these crimes against humanity. The Liberals, after all, were in government throughout many of the years of the residential school system in Canada.
NDP leader Jack Layton spoke from his heart, at times fighting back tears. Layton was a persistent advocate of this cause and many credit him with convincing Harper to move forward with the apology. It is also interesting to note that in his discourse Layton emphasized the heartbreak families faced knowing that their children were lying in unmarked graves.
The Green Party did not have a representative in Parliament at that time, but they did support the apology.
When we fast-forward to the 2021 election and look back on the record of our federal parties over the last 13 years, many truths are revealed.
The Harper government moved extremely slowly, but they did technically keep their promise by supporting the TRC and other acts of reconciliation. It should be noted, however, that their economic policies show little regard for Indigenous rights internationally. For example, they have regularly opposed efforts to regulate Canadian mining companies working abroad, and they are some of our worst offenders of human rights.
Justin Trudeau’s election in 2015 was a moment of optimism in Canada. It was followed a few months later by the final report of the TRC and their 94 Calls to Action, which provide a blueprint for healing from the impact of residential schools. To date, according to a CBC report, only 15 of these calls have been completed, and work on 20 of them hasn’t even begun. In addition, the Indian Act, perhaps the most racist law in Canadian history, has not been replaced. The foreign and environmental policies of the Trudeau government regarding Indigenous issues have also left much to be desired. One has to wonder if members of the Liberal Party are even aware of Dion’s words.
It is always more difficult to judge political parties when they are not in power. That said, the current platform of the NDP is one that Jack Layton would likely be proud of. Their plan is to implement all 94 Calls to Action. The NDP voting record on Canadian foreign policy under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh has also been relatively consistent with their official stand on Indigenous issues.
Though a smaller player, the Green Party has traditionally championed Indigenous rights and related environmental issues. Unfortunately, they may have lost legitimacy with many supporters by failing to advocate for Palestinians in recent months.
Trudeau claims that he called an early election to give Canadians a voice at a critical time in our history. If we really are concerned about the violation of Indigenous rights and other crimes against humanity in Canada and abroad, we need to hold our leaders accountable for their actions.
It is our responsibility as citizens to be informed on these issues and to vote conscientiously.