IN DEPTH: ABORIGINAL CANADIANS
Undoing the Kelowna agreement
CBC News Online | Updated Nov. 21, 2006
On Nov. 24-25, 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin, the premiers and aboriginal leaders met in Kelowna for the First Ministers Conference on Aboriginal Affairs. The meeting resulted in a five-year, $5-billion plan to improve the lives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
While the deal set targets to improve education, housing, economic development, health and water services, details of how much of the money would be spent and who would provide the services were left to be negotiated at a later date.
Seventy-two hours later, Martin's minority government fell, triggering a federal election won by Stephen Harper's Conservatives. When the Tories tabled their first budget on May 2, 2006, they said they were committed to meeting the targets of the Kelowna deal.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables the budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa, May 2, 2006. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)
But aboriginal leaders criticized the $450 million set aside for aboriginals in the budget, saying it didn't come close to the funding promised at the first ministers conference.
"I think the pine beetle infestation in B.C. got more money than urban aboriginals," said Larry Wucherer, the president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg.
Kelowna deal included $1.8 billion for education
A rough agenda released by Martin's Liberal government in the days before the conference suggested the meeting would focus on five critical areas: health, education, economic development, relationships between government and aboriginals, and housing, including incentives for private home ownership on reserves.
Ottawa said the initiatives would represent a 10-year commitment to raising the standard of living of aboriginal Canadians so that it would be equal that of all other Canadians.
» EXTERNAL LINK: Details of the agreement [link will open in a new window]
The plan included:
$1.8 billion for education, to create school systems, train more aboriginal teachers and identify children with special needs.
- $1.6 billion for housing, including $400 million to address the need for clean water in many remote communities.
- $1.3 billion for health services.
- $200 million for economic development.
The goal of the education investments was to ensure that the high school graduation rate of aboriginal Canadians matched the rest of the population. The money was also aimed at cutting in half the gap in rates of post-secondary graduation.
On health, targets were established to reduce infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes by 20 per cent in five years, and 50 per cent in 10 years. The Martin government also promised to double the number of health professionals in 10 years from the current level of 150 physicians and 1,200 nurses.
Aboriginals called deal a breakthrough
Phil Fontaine, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called the deal a breakthrough for his people.
"All of the targets we've set are achievable," said Fontaine. "We're driving this process and we're forcing government to respond to our plan."
In the election campaign after Martin's minority government fell, the Liberals stressed that unless they were re-elected, the Kelowna deal would never see the light of day.
Native issues not among Tory priorities
Aboriginal issues were not among the five priorities in the Conservatives' election campaign. Before the election on Jan. 23, 2006, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper barely mentioned the Kelowna deal. And it wasn't a priority in his first budget as prime minister.
» RELATED: The budget: Harper has not yet declared his native policy
The Conservative government allocated $150 million in 2006 and $300 million in 2007 to improve education programs, provide clean water, upgrade mostly off-reserve housing and close the socio-economic gap between aboriginal Canadians and the rest of the population.
The Kelowna deal would have set aside $600 million in 2006 alone to improve health, education and housing standards.
The budget document said the government was committed to meeting the targets agreed upon at the Kelowna summit – but by working with "aboriginal leaders and provinces and territories to develop a new approach with workable solutions."
Budget's funds won't 'eradicate poverty': Fontaine
The Tory's budget promises for aboriginals immediately drew criticism, including from aboriginal leaders such as Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations.
"[The Kelowna Accord] was designed to eradicate poverty in First Nations communities and make Canada a better place," Fontaine of the Assembly of First Nations said.
"This budget suggests to me that we won't be able to move ahead on those commitments."
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein also expressed his disappointment. He said the Kelowna deal went a long way toward addressing the needs of First Nations and Métis peoples.
William Davison of the Indian Métis Christian Fellowship, who works with urban aboriginals in Regina, said he wasn't surprised that the Tories chopped the funds. But he said the billions promised in the Kelowna Accord would have gone a long way to helping improve the lives of aboriginals in Canada.
"I work with a lot of hopelessness and despair within the aboriginal urban community dealing with traditions and cultures and dealing with those trapped in the streets," Davison told CBC News.
"Suicide, addiction – would some of those dollars help that? They could go a long way towards dealing with those issues."
Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice questions whether the first ministers ever reached an actual agreement in Kelowna.
"The province of Quebec wasn't even engaged in the process because the aboriginal leadership in Quebec didn't take part in the process," Prentice told the House of Commons standing committee on aboriginal affairs. "So don't portray this as a national consensus that exists in an accord, because it doesn't exist."
Prentice noted that the only thing that came out of Kelowna was a single-paged document and a press release.
Former prime minister Paul Martin concedes that details about where the money would come from still had to be negotiated, but all the premiers endorsed the agreement. On June 2, 2006, Martin introduced a private member's bill that called on the Conservative government to make a clear commitment to the aboriginal community by living up to the agreements made in the Kelowna accord.
In November 2006, Canada's Assembly of First Nations gave the federal government a failing grade on improving the quality of life for First Nations peoples.