Friday, June 15, 2007

Proposed land claims legislation shows Harperites can get some thing right

Finally, after 18 months, something truly innovative and positive out of this government. Jim Prentice’s announcement this week of a revamped land claims tribunal offers a glimmer of hope in what has been a sadly mismanaged and ineffective process that goes back decades (and in at least one case, for more than a century!).

Whatever the merits of any individual land claim, Canada’s First Nations deserve the right to have their claims heard and then processed quickly and fairly. Unfortunately, over the past many years, delays, legal wrangling, blockades, civil disobedience, etcetera ad nauseum, have allowed this issue to degenerate into an antagonistic, vitriolic, virtual stalemate.

There is a school of thought that believes – not without merit – that this has become an industry and the negotiators on both sides have more to gain personally the longer it takes to resolve the issues. Just consider the countless lawyers on both sides whose daily bread and butter depends on being able to bill another couple of hundred hours every month to either the Indian bands or the government. Or consider the thousands of federal civil servants in the Department of Indian Affairs – what will they do if there are no more land claim issues? A perfectly good, future-assured, civil service job up in flames. And then there’s the Mohawk Warrior Society. Does anyone seriously believe they have any desire to see these issues come to closure? Of course not. No outstanding land claims means there’s no reason to hide behind a camouflaged mask, wave a powerful weapon in the air, and shout slogans. (Does this remind anyone else besides me of Hamas?)

And don’t forget the opposition parties. Surely they will all take a crack at it, but one hopes that they can stop the partisan bickering for a moment (granted, it’s a faint hope) and even contribute positively to the upcoming legislation.

All of which goes to say that there will be many obstacles to Jim Prentice getting this legislation in place any time soon, but if ever there was a non-partisan issue, this is it. To Jim Prentice and Phil Fontaine: Get the legislation together and table it at the first opportunity. And to the opposition parties: Contribute positively or shut up.

Get it done!

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