APTN National News
OTTAWA — The National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations said federal leaders ignored a perfect opportunity to explain their vision and plans for including First Nations in the economy Thursday night in Calgary.
Instead, Perry Bellegarde said Liberal leader Pierre Trudeau, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Prime Minister Stephen Harper largely “ignored” issues crucial to First Nation peoples and Canadians.
“Canada’s economic future demands that we work on First Nations land issues, resource issues, Treaties, First Nations rights and strong First Nations peoples and communities,” said Bellegarde in a statement released after the debate. “First Nations communities were ignored apart from Mr. Trudeau’s effort to raise First Nations economic issues.”
Sharp-elbowed exchanges and three leaders talking over one another marked the early going in a crucial election debate on the economy.
Stephen Harper, looking to extend his Conservative government rule into a second decade, maintained that a stay-the-course, tax-cutting agenda is the road to prosperity.
“I’ve never said things were great” in the Canadian economy,“ Harper allowed.
“I’ve said we’re living in a very challenging enviroinment,” the three-term prime minister said before asking viewers directly, “where would you rather live?”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took turns jumping on Harper’s responses, and frequently each other’s, as the second of five leaders’ debates before the Oct. 19 vote took on a more combative tone.
“Mr. Harper sees the environment and the economy as polar opposites,” said Mulcair, standing in the middle between Harper to his left and Trudeau to his right.
“Everybody in Canada knows you have to work on both at the same time.”
“Which is why we’ve done both,” snapped Harper.
“Mr. Mulcair, you actually are the only leader in Canadian history to have gone to another country, you and your colleagues, to the United States to argue against Canadian jobs and against Canadian development projects.”
Trudeau, the lone leader in the debate who is proposing to run deficits over the next three years, challenged Harper by likening Canadians to homeowners taking on a home mortgage or a home renovation loan.
With rock-bottom interest rates and slack in the economy, “If this isn’t the time to invest, what would be?” asked Trudeau.
“This is the time to invest in the future of our country. Canadians know this. The only two people who don’t know this are the two gentlemen on this stage.”
Harper responded that the Conservatives are doing exactly that, without raising taxes and while balancing the books.
A couple of hundred chanting supporters penned outside the BMO Centre in Stampede Park bellowed their support and derision as the leaders arrived for the second of five scheduled debates before the Oct. 19 vote.
Chants of “four more years” competed with “Harper’s gotta go” and “just not ready” and “Trudeau! Trudeau!” from the crowd framed by a kaleidoscope of blue, red and orange signs that lined a fence separating partisans from arriving leaders.
It wasn’t the windiest part of the pre-debate show.
Both the Conservatives and New Democrats launched pre-emptive strikes against the Liberals in the hours before the leaders faced off over economic issues, considered the crucial, vote-moving issue of the election.
Their target, Trudeau, attempted to send his own message, staging a solo, sunrise canoe ride in Calgary, evoking memories of his father, Pierre, that Liberals quickly turned into a saccharine online ad.
The relentless air wars over more than six weeks of campaigning have left the three major parties in a statistical dead heat in the aggregate of public opinion surveys, dramatically upping the ante on each face-to-face debate among the leaders.
Trudeau has said he would run deficits until 2019 to pay for an ambitious infrastructure program to stimulate growth, while Harper and Mulcair are promising to balance the country’s books immediately.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was not invited to take part in the debate sponsored by the Globe and Mail. Rather, May took part in Victoria, B.C. participated by taking to Twitter and tweeting out responses to the party leaders and questions.
The Assembly of First Nations, perhaps more involved in this election that in past campaigns, released document Sept. 2, titled Closing the Gap: 2015 Federal Election Priorities for First Nations and Canada.
It outlines the AFN’s five top challenges to the federal leaders including, strengthening First Nations, families and communities, sharing and equitable funding, upholding rights, respecting the environment, revitalization Indigenous languages and truth and reconciliation. None of these issues were addressed Thursday night by the leaders.
Bellegarde also released a document at the beginning of the election outlining 51 ridings in Canada where First Nation votes could have an impact.
— with files from the Canadian Press