Opinion

Government agenda forces us to be Idle No More

The Idle No More movement is gaining momentum across Canada.

Aboriginal people are refusing to back down to the Conservative government’s recent legislative changes. They are rejecting amendments that will undermine treaty rights and erode environmental protections, and staging grassroots protests across the country, arm-in-arm with non-Aboriginal supporters.

The Idle No More movement was started last November, when a small group of Aboriginal women in Saskatchewan, concerned about the reforms being introduced by the Conservative government, organized a protest in Saskatoon.

This initial gathering has since spread across Canada, snowballing into a national movement, with rallies being held almost daily in communities across the country.

We are even seeing action in the Cowichan region, with hundreds of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people gathering in the cold outside the Qu’wutsun’ Cultural Centre Sunday to voice their opposition to the recent federal changes.

Idle No More has largely been a protest against Bill C-45, introduced by the Conservative government last fall, and since passed by Parliament. Bill C-45 is the Conservative government’s second “omnibus budget bill,” and proposes changes to 64 separate acts and regulations, including the Indian Act, Navigation Protection Act, and Environmental Assessment Act.

These changes will make it easier for reserve lands to be leased to private interests, doing away with the requirement that band councils secure the support of a majority of eligible voters before moving forward with a private lease.

We are starting to see a pattern in the Conservative Party’s approach to governing since the 2011 federal election, as each new round of legislative changes brings with it an attack on working people and the more vulnerable members of society.

For example, the first omnibus budget bill (Bill C-38), passed earlier last year, did away with federal laws that required construction companies bidding on federal contracts to pay fair wages, undermining the living standards of many middle class workers.

Other amendments introduced in Bill C-38 make it more difficult for laid off workers to collect employment insurance benefits. Changes introduced in recent decades have already reduced the percentage of unemployed Canadians receiving benefits from 80% to below 40%, and the Conservative government’s latest reforms should drive this number down even further, creating unnecessary hardship for many of the 1.3 million Canadians currently out of work who have already paid their fair share to the employment insurance program.

The Conservative government has also raised the age of eligibility for Old Age Security Program from 65 to 67 years, which will force many hard-working Canadians to stay in the workforce longer than they would otherwise, and denying them access to a social program they too have already paid for after decades contributing to the economy and government coffers.

Now is the time for us to stand together--Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, young and old, working people and retired folks--and tell our political leaders that we are not prepared to watch them do away with long-standing treaty rights, important environmental protections and our hard-won social programs — all so that they can force their ideological agenda on Canadians, whatever the costs.

And if the Conservative politicians don’t want to listen, then they better be ready to get punished at the polls come next election.

Rob Douglas writes monthly for the Cowichan News Leader Pictorial. He can be reached at douglas.robert.g@gmail.com

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