Harper’s lack of response in the Idle No More movement
By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor
I’ve had my issues with Stephen Harper. Quite apart from the fact that his face appears to be permanently smug, I don’t think he’s passed muster as prime minister. I disagree with his funding decisions; I’m disdainful of his passing agreements and downplaying them in the media, presumably to avoid criticism (the quiet development of an agreement with CNOOC being a recent example); and I doubt that anyone—least of all the Conservatives—was happy about the allegations of manipulative and downright dirty strategies employed by the Conservative party in the last federal election.
I’m not just holding grudges, either. Harper is now effectively demonstrating his failure to negotiate with or acknowledge those who challenge him. Those who challenge him being members of the Idle No More movement.
The movement was started by four Saskatchewan women, frustrated by the Conservative’s latest and not-so-great omnibus, Bill C-45. They assert that the bill makes it easier to sell off Indian reserves, while Tom Flanagan, political scientist and supporter of the Conservative party, argues that the bill makes it easier for First Nations to lease their land.
Theresa Spence, chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation, has been on a hunger strike since December 11, vowing not to eat until she has secured a meeting with Prime Minister Harper. For his part, the right and honourable PM has yet to agree to a meeting, while Spence has received endorsements from members of other political parties.
Although protests in the name of Idle No More have been spreading, the support being sought from Harper is notably absent. Harper’s response has been nonexistent apart from mentioning a gathering between the Crown and the First Nations last January. As Jenny Uechi of the Vancouver Observer notes, there’s been plenty of time for his team to tweet about “Charlie the Chinchilla [getting] into the Christmas spirit at 24 Sussex.” I’m aware that it’s most likely some poor forlorn intern who’s having to tweet about a Christmas chinchilla, and I know that Harper’s not about to address Idle No More in a tweet. But utter silence rather than addressing what are some legitimate concerns from a long marginalized community?
For a moment, let’s forget about the question of whether or not he cares about the Ghandi-esque protests of a First Nation chief, or her health, or her reasons for protesting. His responsibility as prime minister is to listen and respond to the beliefs, concerns, and votes of the Canadian people. So far, I’d say he’s done a less than mediocre job of doing so.
The Conservative’s alleged robo-calls manipulated the vote, and—if the allegations are true—directly went against what a politician is meant to be. True, some politicians aim to remain in power irrespective of fact and fiction, yet the ideal politicians are still those who endeavor to represent the people. A party that would intentionally dissuade groups from voting because those people aren’t voting the “right” way is intent on not listening to the people.
Harper burying potentially unpopular decisions shows a lack of commitment to serving the people and to honesty. He has been accused of burying the CNOOC agreement by announcing it on a Friday evening—a time notorious for harbouring the fugitives of agreements; those sickly bills and decisions that would die off if exposed to the harsh light of day and the public’s ire.
Harper’s handling of Idle No More seems very much in line with his ever-sullying track record. No person is perfect, and politicians are not exempt from that generalization. Is it too much to ask, though, that our prime minister strive to be good?