As Theresa Spence enters the tenth day of her hunger strike -- and as Canada's First Nations put the Harper government on notice that they will be Idle No Longer -- it's becoming clear that Stephen Harper has a big problem -- a problem of his own making. Michael Harris writes:
If you want to know why Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence is on a hunger strike, it is because official apologies from on high do not feed families, build houses, install water systems or educate kids. It is because some of the poorest bands in the country have concluded that Stephen Harper has to be put on the spot.
Native peoples have discovered what Quebecers discovered sometime ago. As movie mogul Sam Goldwyn once declared, "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on." The bald truth is that you can't take what Stephen Harper says to the bank. The prime minister apologized to Canada's first nations. But
on the very day that Stephen Harper was apologizing to aboriginals for the unimaginable crimes against them, including the residential school tragedy, Pierre Poilievre was in the studio of an Ottawa radio station lecturing natives on how to live “responsible” lives. Having forgotten the enormity of what has been done to the indigenous people of Canada, the government explains away the shameful mess of native life by ascribing character flaws to the very people who have been damaged.
When last year's housing crisis at Attawapaskat burst into the national media:
Harper purposely and falsely left the impression with Canadians that the Conservatives had given every person in Attawapiskat $50,000. As NDP MP Charlie Angus pointed out at the time, what the PM didn’t say was that the money was spread out over six years. So when the real calculation was done, each resident of Attawapiskat received $8,000 per year — or less than half of what is spent per capita on other Canadians on things like health and education.
As Angus put it, “Harper’s line rang out like a dog whistle to a racist base that believed that those Indians couldn’t be trusted with our money.”
Deep Throat's advice to Woodward and Bernstein applies as much to the Harper government as it did to the Nixon Administration -- follow the money:
If there are people who think band councils in Canada don’t properly account for the expenditure of public monies, what must they think about the Harper government, which still continues to deprive parliamentary officers of basic financial information about departmental cuts from the last budget? What must they think about the Al Capone accounting of the F-35 program? What must they think about G8 and G20 spending that was $900 million higher than any other such meeting on earth?
Chief Spence can be forgiven if she needs the prime minister’s ear for a few moments. How can there be $28 million to market an ancient war and no money to provide clean drinking water for aboriginal communities?
Chief Spence has Stephen Harper's number. She knows exactly how much his word is worth. It's a lesson all Canadians should heed.