Now that Chief Theresa Spence has ended her hunger strike, what will we do for news? For six weeks or so we could count on at least one item on every newscast about Ms. Spence. Was she really fasting? Did she have the support of her band council? Was there a disagreement between her and National Chief Sean Atleo? Was she an incompetent band manager? Or even, as Brian McLoughlin dismissively suggested in a letter to the editor (Jan. 15) was she simply seeking attention and having a temper tantrum like a five-year-old child?
Unfortunately, none of this “news coverage” had anything to do with the issues that triggered her hunger strike in the first place. None of it helped any of us to understand what Prime Minister Stephen Harper has buried in the two “budget omnibus bills” that he has pushed through Parliament. Since many of the provisions of these two bills and some eight other pieces of legislation affect First Nations deeply, Spence wanted the ever-secretive and controlling prime minister to be more open, and consult with First Nations. And since he regularly ignores such requests, she embarked on her hunger strike to bring the First Nations’ concerns to public notice. Unfortunately this attention-seeking manoeuvre became the news, and the prime minister’s omnibus bills remained (and remain) unexamined.
Borrowing a trick from American legislators, the prime minister has pushed through Bill C 38 and Bill C 45, the so-called budget omnibus bills. Each of these bills runs to over 450 pages and it would be no surprise, given the short time for dealing with them, if very few of the members of the House of Commons have even read the bills, never mind discussed them. Yet legal advisors examining the bills have pointed out that Bill C 38 includes changes to more than 70 federal acts without proper parliamentary debate. The bill dramatically changes Canada’s federal environmental legislation, removing many protections for water, fish and the environment. Bill C 45 includes changes to 44 federal laws, again without proper parliamentary debate. Because of changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act included in the omnibus bill, a shocking 99 per cent of Canada’s waterways lost their protection for navigation and federal enviro assessment purposes.
These are issues that affect us all, but we mostly just sat idly by wondering how we can stop these important changes. First Nations people have even more at stake and are determined not to sit idly by. Hence the Idle No More demonstrations.
How can this happen in a democratic country? How can a party that captured only 39.6 per cent of the votes in the last federal election (the most it has received since the Mulroney years) win 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons, thereby gaining control of the House? It is a consequence of our archaic and seriously flawed electoral system with its first-past-the post method of selecting our MPs. Six out of every 10 voters voted against the Harper Tories, yet they control the votes in the House. Given a determined prime minister with a rigid ideological agenda and a docile and compliant caucus, they can change the very nature of our nation in a few years.
Thank goodness for Chief Spence and the Idle No More demonstrators for speaking out.