Events in Canada this week show why elections matter. This is Trahant Reports.
Yes, there will be better policies put in place: Perhaps a return to government-to-government relations with First Nations; more federal investment in Indigenous education; and, a serious, nationwide probe of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. All these things show a government moving in the right direction.
But there is something else: tone. The music of elections.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the message that Aboriginal Canadians are significant intellectual contributors to Canada’s political discourse. Trudeau’s appointments, his first day of images, really set a high bar for what hope elections can stir in a community, including those representing First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
Most of us are surrounded by a narrative that says real shared power takes a long time. We have to move slow, methodically, bringing people along.
But that’s not what happened in Canada. Trudeau’s appointments were like a lightening bolt. In one instant the cabinet of Canada is representative of gender, of region, and, of Aboriginal people. When he was asked, “why?” about gender, the prime minister replied, “because it’s 2015.”
Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde told the CBC that Trudeau’s appointments begin a “new era of reconciliation” and the appointments send a powerful message about a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.
The new minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould shows how a government can match diversity with extraordinary talent and experience. Much has been said about the attorney general’s role as a regional tribal chief and as an advocate for reconciliation with Aboriginal people. But she’s also been British Columbia crown prosecutor. The fact is she’s extraordinarily well qualified for this post. Wilson-Raybould is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation. When she was a child, her father said it was her goal to be Prime Minister.
That same richness of experience is true for the new minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Hunter Tootoo. He is Inuit and has a track record on issues such as economic development and housing. But he also was Speaker of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.
Imagine what these kinds of appointments would be like in the United States: A leader of a fishing tribe named to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Or a tribal judge and attorney as the next United States Attorney General. Lightening bolt.
Canada, of course, is a different political system. Cabinet members must also be elected Members of Parliament. Here it would mean getting elected to Congress before you could be Interior Secretary. Yet even with the political differences, there is a shared sense of optimism after an election. Every government starts off with hope and the excitement of possibility of making people’s lives better.
I am Mark Trahant.