BY BILL PHILLIPS
First Nations issues were front-and-centre Thursday during an all-candidates forum at the Prince Georg Native Friendship Centre.
New Democrat candidates Bobby Deepak (Prince George-Mackenzie) and Natalie Fletcher (Prince George-Valemount) and Green Party candidate Hilary Crowley (Prince George-Mackenzie) and Nan Kendy (Prince George-Valemount) were on the hot seat for a couple of hours.
Liberal candidates Mike Morris (Prince George-Mackenzie) and Shirley Bond (Prince George-Valemount) “aren’t here and I don’t know why,” said moderator Terry Teegee, Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief.
Teegee added the B.C. Jobs Plan, the Skills for Jobs Blueprint, don’t meet the needs of the most vulnerable and fastest growing population in the province … those bring First Nations and urban aboriginal people. The candidates were asked what they would do to alleviate that situation.
“In a rich country like Canada, we should be ashamed that there are so many people, including children, living in poverty,” said Crowley. “The discrepancy between rich and poor shows that our programs are not working to protect the more vulnerable members of our communities.”
She said a Green government would commit to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Affordable housing would be another priority, she said.
“We will increase assistance rates for those on income assistance and increase shelter allowance rates,” she said. “We will introduce basic income support for youth 18-24 transitioning out of foster care.”
She said the Greens recognize that First Nations are equal partners in resource and land management and the party will establish a co-management stewardship model for First Nations.
The NDP platform addresses many First Nations issues, said Deepak, recognizing that First Nations are full partners with government.
“When you say that, you have to act on it,” he said. “When it comes to, for example, the jobs issues, we’ll be creating many job opportunities for First Nations. We’ll be building on First Nations demonstrated leadership.”
He said and NDP government would seek out partnerships with First Nations as it builds 114,000 affordable housing units in the province.
“We will work with organizations that are increasing First Nations participation in mining, forestry, fishing, technology, manufacturing,” he said.
He said the Liberal government’s record on children in care is “atrocious,” citing that last year there were 120 deaths of children in care.
“We know that First Nations children are over-represented among children in care, and that needs to change,” he said. “We will keep aboriginal children connected to their communities.”
He added an NDP government will enact the recommendations of Chief Ed John’s report on children in care in B.C. and it will ensure delegated aboriginal agencies offer core services at the same level as those offered by non-aboriginal services.
Kendy said she recently visited St. Vincent de Paul’s in Prince George and was “shocked” to see about 175 people lined up for lunch … something that happens pretty much every day in the city.
“We must invest in preventative measures that ensure new generations never experience the suffering that current generations endure,” she said.
The Green Party, she said, will develop a poverty reduction strategy.
“Addressing the discrepancy between minimum wage a liveable wage is a priority,” she said. “We will increase welfare rates to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.”
A Green government will provide a low income benefit of $205 per month for low increase families.
Fletcher said education is one of the key components to addressing the problem.
“We will develop a curriculum that reflects the rich history and provide support to work towards full course offerings in aboriginal languages,” she said.
Another barrier for low income earners is child care, she said, adding an NDP government will institute a $10/day childcare program.
“I have spoken to so many people that have to choose which parent has to go to work because they can’t afford child care,” she said.
She said and NDP government will adopt the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People.