Premier Kathleen Wynne should take on the mantle of reconciliation

Posted on June 16, 2015 in Equality Delivery System – Opinion/Commentary – Rather than criticize Ottawa for its tepid response to the Truth and Reconciliation report, Ontario should step up and take action itself.
Jun 15 2015.   By: Christopher Alcantara, Politics

Earlier this month, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne criticized the federal government for delivering a “disappointing” response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 recommendations. By doing so, Wynne was engaging in what has become an almost institutionalized form of doing politics in Canada. Like many premiers before her, she chose to criticize the prime minister and the federal government for inaction rather than taking action herself.

Although coverage of the report almost exclusively focused on the role of the federal government, a closer reading of the executive summary suggests that there is ample room for provincial and territorial governments to embark on reconciliation on their own. In other words, this issue doesn’t have to suffer the death of a thousand intergovernmental meetings like many other issues in the past.

If Wynne was being completely honest and serious when she said that “there is now no possible excuse for any government to ignore the abuses of our past relationship” then her government needs to act decisively and quickly on at least some of the recommendations in the commission’s report.

How might she do this?

The first step would be to embark on a serious consultation process with Indigenous communities in Ontario. The goal here would be to work with rural and urban Indigenous communities and leaders to identify which recommendations should be prioritized by the provincial government.

History teaches us that major policy initiatives involving Indigenous peoples require a bottom-up engagement process for two reasons. First, such processes usually produce proposals that better meet the needs of local communities, at least compared to top-down approaches. Second, and perhaps more importantly, bottom-up approaches also tend to produce greater buy-in by the affected communities.

Some might argue, however, that the nature of the commission’s recommendations is designed for federal action only, but in reality, there is ample jurisdictional room for the provincial government to take meaningful action.
For instance, Ontario could change how it educates youth, post-secondary students, public servants, and professionals in the province. Throughout the commission’s report, there are recommendations that call on the government to introduce new courses and curriculum requirements that properly teach the history and present-day situation of Indigenous peoples, beginning in kindergarten and all the way through to the post-secondary level.
It also suggests that heath-care professionals, lawyers, and public servants receive similar training and professional development. All of these activities are fully within the jurisdiction of provincial governments.

The government of Ontario might also respond to the recommendations by providing new funding for things like Aboriginal healing centres, alternatives to imprisonment and traditional sentencing, and Aboriginal-specific victim programs.

On a more symbolic level, the premier and her government could do what the federal government refuses to do and establish a provincial public inquiry into the many missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Ontario. In many ways, a provincial public inquiry may be preferable to a national one; the danger with a national inquiry is that local contexts may get overlooked and yet local contexts, specific to particular provinces and their regions, may be crucial to developing appropriate and effective responses to this issue.

Other symbolic actions could include adopting the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as an organizing principle for how the provincial government will address Indigenous issues in Ontario. It might also consider issuing a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation, following the model but also learning from the mistakes of the provincial government of B.C., which tried to do something similar several years go.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s executive report is a powerful call to action for Canada and Wynne was right to criticize the tepid response of the federal government. One can only hope, however, that she avoids the alluring trap of Canadian federalism by doing what many premiers have failed to do in these situations: take action.

Christopher Alcantara is associate professor of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and is currently visiting professor of political science at the University of Guelph. ​

< >

Tags: , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 at 8:30 am and is filed under Equality Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply