Surprises abounded in Canada’s May 2 general election: Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, trounced from its minority-ruling status by a no-confidence vote in late March, not only won but also took the majority, with 167 seats in Parliament; Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff lost his seat entirely; the New Democratic Party more than doubled its number of House seats, to 102, and the Green Party earned its first-ever seat in Parliament.
In another upset, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe resigned his leadership post after the party’s seats dropped from 47 to four.
This was mixed news for the aboriginal population, given that Harper’s last administration had been peddling several bills that they felt were unfavorable and did not consult them as to their actual needs and capabilities. Harper promised to “focus on building a great future” as he addressed cheering supporters, the Associated Press reported.
On the one hand the NDP’s new status makes for a strong opposition. But on the other, the Conservatives didn’t even show up to the debates called by First Nations, Inuit and Métis and did not answer the aboriginal groups’ questionnaires.
Canada’s aboriginal peoples are ready to take him up on his promises. National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) said he would immediately continue building on the relationship he had been forging with the Conservative government before the election was called, namely by reminding Harper, in writing, of the commitments he’d made on education and other issues.
“When we look at what’s in place now, we feel strongly that it’s about getting back to work,” Atleo told reporters in a conference call. “Now that we know the result of the election we want to pick up on the relationship that we’d established with Prime Minister Harper and his government and the commitments that he’d made in the case of education and the area of a First Nation town gathering.”
This would include, he said, “working not only with government but with all parliamentarians.”
Other aboriginal leaders echoed the sentiment.
“Now that the Prime Minister has received his longed-awaited majority, I hope he will continue to keep the Arctic in his focus,” said Mary Simon, president of the Inuit advocacy group Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), in a statement. “I look forward to meeting with the Prime Minister soon to continue the urgent work we began in previous years.”
Atleo also stressed the need to reach out to all Canadians to let them know that indigenous issues are their issues, given the aging of the mainstream population and the youth and fast growth rate of the aboriginal population.
The national chief also congratulated the seven aboriginal candidates who won out of the 33 who ran for office around the country and noted the changed political landscape evident in the Green Party’s first-ever Parliamentary seat, the NDP’s unprecedented gain in the House and the Conservatives’ majority.
In Nunavut, incumbent Leona Aglukkaq won her seat. She was the first Inuk appointed to the federal cabinet, Simon pointed out.
“I also extend my support to all new MPs who will be setting up offices on Parliament Hill this spring,” Simon said. “I wish them success in the challenges that lie ahead and invite them to meet with me and my staff to learn about the Arctic and its people.”