Ottawa urged to adhere to Kelowna deal


May 29, 2006. 08:43 PM




GIMLI, Man. - Western premiers went into their annual meeting Monday

urging the federal government not to back away from a $5.1 billion deal

to improve the lives of aboriginal people.


The so-called Kelowna accord was signed last November by former prime

minister Paul Martin, the premiers, territorial leaders and aboriginal



But Stephen Harper's new Conservative government has been cool to the

deal. And the fact that it was not mentioned in the federal budget has

led some to speculate that it's dead.


Western premiers met with aboriginal leaders at the outset of their

meeting to discuss the issue. They reaffirmed their backing of the

accord and said they would push the federal government for a meeting of

aboriginal affairs ministers from across the country to plan how to

proceed from here.


The premiers also reaffirmed the commitment to having an aboriginal

economic summit next January in Saskatoon and a summit on violence

against aboriginal women.


Host Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba said it would be "morally wrong" to

backtrack on the commitments outlined in the Kelowna deal.


"In my view the Kelowna accord could never deal with 120 years of

Canadian history, but at least it was a start."


Doer added the Harper government "should have the right to look at

things but not have the right to walk away" from the principles of

closing the gap between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.


British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell said he is hopeful the federal

government has not abandoned the accord and suggested the provinces

should proceed with their parts of the deal.


"I can tell you, in British Columbia we are committed to it. I believe

the federal government will come to the table," Campbell said.


"We're coming up to an anniversary, if you want, of the Kelowna accord

in November. My hope is that all provincial governments will have laid

out their plans for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people about how they

are going to close those gaps and bring the federal government in to

provide the kind of resources that are necessary over the long term."


Assembly of First Nation national chief Phil Fontaine said the support

of the western premiers leads him to believe that the Kelowna accord is

not dead.


"I don't think there has been any word that the deal is done," Fontaine



"It may be a matter as simple as rebranding and we have no objection to

that. If it is going to bring about the continuation of this process . .

. then we would be happy with that."


Doer said he hopes if groups such as the western premiers throw their

support behind the deal the federal government won't be so inclined to

go another way.


"The will of the public always determines the best way to go," he said.


The Kelowna accord was struck after 18 months of talks. It included a

19-page plan of targets and reporting requirements over 10 years in

areas such as health, education, housing and clean water.


It would have provided $624 million for First Nations in the first year

alone, plus millions of dollars more for the Inuit and Metis.


The federal government's budget contained promises of two years of firm

funding for aboriginal issues - $150 million is promised this year and

$300 million next year.


The new government has said it "is committed to meeting the targets

agreed upon" at the Kelowna meeting.


Still, that hasn't been enough to allay the concerns of some within the

aboriginal community who fear the deal is dead.