11/30/2011 01:53 EST | Updated 01/30/2012 05:12 EST

Attawapiskat: Bob Rae Calls For Dramatic Change On Reserves


Liberal interim leader Bob Rae is calling for a revamp of the way Ottawa treats the country’s Aboriginal people.

“We are reaching a crisis point here where we need to understand that things have gone on a certain way and they have to change dramatically, structurally and in very deep ways,” Bob Rae told reporters Wednesday.

“We’ve created now a pattern of dependence and a pattern of not dealing with the underlying issues,” he said.

Despite Northern Ontario’s vast resources, Rae said, Aboriginal communities such as those on the shores of James Bay such as Attawapiskat, are mostly frozen out and do not share the benefits of those developments.

“We don’t have a self-governing agreement which gives real responsibility to the reserves to decide themselves what are the techniques and methods that they want to use to encourage economic development, how are they going to set priorities, but basically we have communities that have no economic base, that have no tax base, that have no revenue base and that rely only on transfers from the federal government in order to make way,” the Liberal interim leader said, stressing that Aboriginal people themselves should make those decisions.

The Conservative government could have avoided the crisis in Attawapiskat and other reserves in similar situations, Rae added, if it had not scrapped the Liberals’ Kelowna accord.

“Six years ago, if the government had agreed to carry out the agreement that had been signed by the provinces and the federal government, the Kelowna accord, we wouldn’t be having this problem, because the investments would have been made. The investments were all provided for in the agreement, in water, in housing, in education and so forth. In other to close to the gaps between what some aboriginal groups are receiving and what the residents in the rest of Canada are receiving.”

Ontario, Rae said, spends an average of $15,000 per high school student, while the feds only pony up $8,000 for similar education on reserves — and the same is true, he said, for other support services such as child welfare.

“Everything is less than what is required, it is not more than what is required. And so Mr. Harper is dreaming in Technicolor if he thinks attacking those of us who believe that more investments are required is going to solve the problem. It isn’t going to solve the problem,” Rae said.

The Prime Minister, he suggested, should also head to Attawapiskat and other communities in similar situations in Northern Ontario.

"This is unfortunately, it is not an exception. And this is something that we all have to recognize. This is not a one-off problem. This is a problem right across the board in Northern Canada," Rae said.

When Harper rose in the House of Commons to apologize for residential schools, he did so in the name of reconciliation, that apology, Rae said, has to be followed up with action.

“It has to be followed up with real commitments and we don’t see those commitments,” he said.

“Attawapiskat is not unique. This is not the only community experiencing severe problems. And if they transfer the funding from other communities instead of Attawapiskat, we haven’t resolved the problem. We are just creating bigger problems.”

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