Treaty 6 Grand Chief Cameron Alexis isn’t holding out hope that much will change for Aboriginal people following the provincial election on April 23.
Recent polls indicate that the ruling Progressive Conservatives, led by Premier Alison Redford, and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Party are neck-and-neck.
“Both parties are also right wing, so which one is going to do the right thing? That is my question to both parties,” said Alexis.
But just because both parties fall on the right side of the political spectrum doesn’t mean the two are carbon copies, said Wildrose spokesperson Vitor Marciano.
“There are things that play out in regard to ideology and then there are also things that play out in regard to approach,” said Marciano, who charges the present government does not listen to Albertans. “Wildrose is deeply committed to involving all Albertans in our discussion.”
There are a number of issues Alexis would like to see raised on the campaign trail: full and proper consultation with First Nations on everything that impacts First Nations people including water rights, the downloading of federal responsibilities to the province, education, economic development, health, and child welfare.
Foremost on Alexis’ mind is the recent rejection by the PC of the First Nations Energy Centre.
“The federal government and the provincial government say that First Nations have to be involved in economics … and then the province denied our request (for approval for the refinery),” said Alexis. “There is no answer as to why they rejected our quest to employ our people in economics. Painfully, I feel there is some discrimination happening here.”
Marciano said his party would have gone ahead with the refinery.
“Wildrose is on record as expressing deep concern in what we see was really a reckless, premature decision to quash the Alberta First Nations Energy Centre project. We think the Alberta First Nations Energy Centre is an incredibly interesting project that heads in the right direction. In the long run, involving the First Nations more deeply into Alberta’s energy economy is a tremendous opportunity,” he said.
Marciano also said consultation with First Nations was “very, very important” and that the PC’s approach was “patronizing.”
While the Wildrose Party is running a full slate, there are no Aboriginal candidates.
“That is unfortunate,” said Marciano. He noted that Wildrose didn’t have a program to entice Aboriginals or any other specific demographics to seek the party’s nomination.
There are four Aboriginal candidates, with the New Democratic Party leading the way with three.
The only riding that sees two Aboriginal candidates facing off is in Lesser Slave Lake, where PC incumbent Pearl Calahasen is taking on NDP Steve Kaz. Calahasen, who is seeking her seventh term in office, is the only Aboriginal candidate for the PCs.
Muriel Stanley Venne, former vice president of the Métis Nation of Alberta, is representing the NDP in the new riding of Edmonton South West, while Linda Robinson is carrying the banner in Stony Plain. The NDP is also running a full slate of candidates as is the PC.
The Liberals, Alberta Party, EverGreen Party and Social Credit have no Aboriginal candidates.
“I feel very strongly (that)… the First Nation and Métis should be engaged far more in running for MLAs in this province. We need to make our voice heard. We can’t just be running for office in our local communities. We have to start raising the bar ourselves,” said Alexis.
He holds that more Aborginal candidates run federally because treaties were signed with the federal government and reserves fall under federal jurisdiction.
However, even those numbers aren’t high. In the 2011 federal election, Alberta had five Aboriginal candidates running in 28 electoral districts. None were successful.
Alexis thought numbers were low because potential candidates found the process intimidating and lining up financial donors was also a challenge.
Photo caption: Incumbent Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen, here with Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, is one of four declared Aboriginal candidates in the upcoming provincial election.