National Chief Pleased with Meeting with Premiers, Territorial Leaders

By Jim West

The premiers, territorial leaders and aboriginal leaders have agreed to push for a ten-year plan to narrow the poverty gap and improve the standard of living of natives to bring them in line with the standard of living enjoyed by other Canadians.

“We had a very positive and constructive dialogue with the premiers and territorial leaders. They are recognizing that our approach is one of constructive engagement: we are presenting concrete proposals and options to address the issues we raise,” said AFN national chief Phil Fontaine. “Simply put, we want to close the gap between ourselves and other Canadians and to enjoy the same quality of life and opportunity.”

The agreement will form the basis of a first ministers’ meeting on aboriginal issues scheduled to take place in November.

Specifically, the provinces and territories will work with the federal government to address five key pillars, that include education, health, housing, economic development and fostering better relationships with the provincial, territorial and federal governments.

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty said the deal is substantive.

“”You now have before you a critical mass of Canadian leadership which has decided to move beyond treating the quality of life for aboriginal communities as the political equivalent of the weather, where we all talk about it and none of us do anything about it,” said McGuinty. “We’ve decided collectively that we want to move the yardstick forward. That’s what’s really meaningful here today.”

The plan includes a series of targets and benchmarks that all parties would strive to achieve.

“We’re talking about Canada’s future and the future of aboriginal people in this country – people that have been left behind for the entire history of Canada,” said BC premier Gordon Campbell. “The gap that exists between aboriginal people, First Nations and the general public is something we all should be ashamed of.”

Fontaine said the premiers actually came through.

“We wanted to secure commitment from the premiers that they would embrace the challenge we’ve put to them establishing this ten-year target,” said the national chief.

“We’re very, very pleased with the tone and substance of the meeting we had,” said Fontaine.

The national chief also called for a more comprehensive and holistic approach to address First Nations priorities by integrating or coordinating government programming and services under increased First Nation control, with comprehensive models for financing services to First Nations people, including those living away from their communities.

The aboriginal leaders met with the premiers and territorial leaders in Calgary in advance of their annual conference in Banff.