Less than 48 hours after his re-election, Justin Trudeau spoke with the leaders of the Assembly of First Nations and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the prime minister said Wednesday.
The Liberals were limited to 157 seats – down 29 from the 2015 election — after all the ballots were counted Oct. 21. Now they must navigate governing as a minority government.
At his first news conference since winning, Trudeau said reconciliation is still high on his list of priorities.
Trudeau said he spoke with Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), and Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“I was very pleased to speak with National Chief Perry Bellegarde this morning, who highlighted again how pleased he was that this past government has done more for Indigenous Canadians and Indigenous communities than any government in history,” he said.
While many Indigenous leaders have agreed with Trudeau on the Liberals’ efforts, critics are confused by the government’s request for a judicial review of a ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering the government to compensate First Nations children on-reserve who have been involved in the child welfare system.
The order, which came down on Sept. 4, is expected to cost in the billions of dollars.
On Oct. 4 the Trudeau government filed for a the review, and a stay.
At Wednesday’s news conference in Ottawa, Trudeau said history shows his government isn’t afraid to compensate people who have been wronged.
“I agree with the tribunal in the need for compensation for people who have been through horrific situations. This is something that we are going to work on and ensure that we are delivering proper compensation, the way we did following the Sixties Scoop, the way we did around TB, the way we did around forced relocations and day schools,” he said. “Ours is a government that understands taking responsibility for mistakes made in the past.”
Trudeau also outlined what the Liberals have done since 2015.
“We’ve also committed to move forward on the historic child and family services legislation and empower and give the funding to Indigenous communities to ensure that kids in care continue to remain within their communities, within their identity, within their culture and language.
“That is something that is extremely important, and that’s what we’re committed to moving forward on.”
Parties involved in the human rights complaint against the federal government, including Cindy Blackstock, lead plaintiff and executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, have said the federal government has been unwilling to meet with them to discuss compensation.
APTN News asked the prime minister if any discussions have been planned with parties involved.
“I was pleased to have good conversations this morning with both Natan Obed and Perry Bellegarde,” he said. “We will continue to engage with Indigenous leadership across the country, Indigenous communities, strong voices to ensure that reconciliation isn’t just a word that we use, but we continue the concrete actions we’ve taken over the past four years and do even more to make sure that the partnership and respect that is so necessary as we move forward with Indigenous peoples in this country is at the core of everything we do.”
ITK is not a party in the Tribunal case.
Trudeau said his government’s first order of business will be reducing taxes for the middle class. Other priorities include making life more affordable for Canadians, and climate change.
Trudeau was also asked about addressing incarceration rates for Indigenous people in Canada and said the solution involves investments in communities in areas such as housing, infrastructure and economic development.
“There’s also a need to look carefully at our justice system… so we are not further criminalizing and penalizing specific portions of the population,” he said.
On the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline, Trudeau said his government will proceed with the project.
“We made the decision to move forward on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion because it was in Canada’s interests to do so, because the environment and the economy need to go together,” he said.
“For too long, we have been selling our natural resources to the United States at a discount, and that doesn’t serve anyone. It certainly doesn’t serve the transition and the investments in clean energy and fighting climate change that take resources and take money to be able to do.”
Trudeau said he is regretful for the negative tone this past election campaign had and that this government needs to be focused on Canadians rather than divisions between parties.
Despite being a minority government Trudeau said he will fulfill his campaign promises and will be meeting with the other party leaders in the near future to make sure that every part of the country’s priorities are addressed.
According to the AFN, the meeting this morning was positive.
“We are working towards a more substantive meeting to set an agenda based on mutual priorities,” said the statement from Bellegarde. “The AFN has been very upfront about our agenda and priorities which are set out in our document Honouring Promises.
“I plan to have discussions with all party leaders in the near future because access and dialogue are important in any working relationship to maintain momentum on an ambitious agenda that will benefit all of Canada.”
It’s not clear if the national chief raised the issue of the judicial review at the meeting.
The ITK did not respond to a request to comment on the meeting.
Trudeau said cabinet will be sworn in on Nov. 20.