Idle No More: The Economic Core of a Failing System
Special to the National Post
The long simmering frustrations of Aboriginal peoples in Canada are coming to a head. Aboriginal peoples have been waiting for decades for the Canadian government to honour their treaty obligations and to address the pressing needs of many Aboriginal communities. These frustrations have long been there, but in common with Canadian society at large, there is a growing sense that the government has become far less responsive, and that Canada’s political and economic systems are not working for yet another large segment of Canadian citizens.
Bills C-38 and C-45 were rammed through Parliament without debate and eliminated the vast majority of environmental protections in Canada, undoing decades of legislation that has protected the health and future of all Canadians. This combined with a Prime Minister who won’t even meet to listen to First Nations concerns and it’s no wonder Aboriginal people feel the need to take strong action. Although the concerns and issues facing First Nations are unique in Canada, the real problem is the same as it is for all Canadians. Our political and economic systems are not working for us.
Despite only 24% of Canadians actually voting for this Prime Minister’s party, Stephen Harper can rule our country like a king. Our electoral system does not represent Canadians wishes, and once elected, the Prime Minister has all the power. If we had a political system that responded to the will of Canadians we wouldn’t have the outcomes we now see. Consistently when polled, greater than 85% of Canadians say they want stronger environmental protection. Gutting the environmental protection that we do have is completely against Canadians wishes and values.
It is also the structure of our economy that ensures that many of the issues that are important to First Nations will never be resolved. Currently in Canada we measure our success as a country, and determine what policies to follow, based not on the well-being of our citizens, but on a very narrow definition of the growth of our economy. We use the increase or decrease of the GDP to indicate whether or not we are improving as a society. Even worse than this, it is only the GDP of today and not the future costs that we care about, and we don’t care how those dollars are produced.
By defining success this way we ensure that only things exchanged for money have value, and that all things exchanged for money, however good or bad, have equal value. In this system we have created, Aboriginal rights, the protection of traditional lands, or ensuring a prosperous future for our children have zero value. Although no one will say so out loud, our economic system counts an oil spill on traditional lands as a positive thing. Because we only look at short term economic indicators to judge the health of our country, the clean-up and associated costs are counted as positive since they increase our GDP and create jobs. All money spent is positive in this perverse method of accounting for the public good, but the importance of the place to those who live there, or whose children were hoping to benefit from the riches of the land in the future have no value.
All Canadians are governed under this distorted view of progress, and although it won’t solve all of the issues First Nations face, there will be no sustained success until our economic and political systems are reformed.