10/05/2015 02:35 EDT | Updated 10/05/2015 03:59 EDT

Federal Election 2015: APTN Town Halls To Feature Interviews With 3 Of 4 Leaders

"Our issues never come up in other debates unless it’s by some weird accident."


Aboriginal issues get nary a mention during leaders’ debates unless it’s a fleeting “vague reference,” according to APTN’s news and current affairs director.

“Our issues never come up in other debates unless it’s by some weird accident that aboriginal people just happened to get mentioned,” Karyn Pugliese said in an interview. It’s an observation that’s motivating the Canadian broadcaster to hold one-on-one town halls with three federal leaders next week in lead up to the election.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, and Green Party Leader have all confirmed their participation.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was invited, but the party declined, Pugliese said.

APTN had originally intended to host a leaders’ debate centred around First Nations issues, but the broadcaster’s proposal was not one of the handful selected by the Conservative Party.

So instead, three town halls will be held: one with May on Oct. 13, another with Trudeau on Oct. 14, and the last with Mulcair on Oct. 15. Each of the one-hour specials will be broadcast at 6 p.m. ET. The leaders will be asked questions collected from across Canada.

One mention of Nutrition North popped up during the Munk debate, said Pugliese, but there was no discussion among the leaders on stage about the program. She said the town halls are a chance for aboriginal Canadians to “get close to people in power.”

Agreeing to participate is to “actually do something,” and it’s a “good act of reconciliation,” Pugliese said

As for Harper’s decision to not participate, it’s nothing surprising, said the NDP’s Charlie Angus.

“[His] unwillingness to acknowledge or address Indigenous issues is no longer something that surprises — it’s something you can count on,” the Timmins-James Bay candidate told HuffPost Canada.

“After ten years of Stephen Harper’s disrespect toward Canada’s first peoples, Canadians are looking for a change.”

The NDP is expected to unveil its indigenous issues platform on Wednesday.

Liberals say they were “pleased” to accept APTN’s town hall invitation.

Party spokesperson Cameron Ahmad said in an email, “Mr. Trudeau has made it a priority to engage directly with Canadians in communities across the country.” He mentioned the Liberal leader’s campaign promise to work nation-to-nation with Métis leaders to reach “meaningful reconciliation.”

“Stephen Harper has failed to address the urgent need to take real action to advance reconciliation with all Aboriginal Peoples, and to renew the relationship based on cooperation and respect for rights,” Ahmad said.

Green Party spokesperson Julian Morelli also echoed the same sentiments, saying Harper’s decision to decline its invitation is symptomatic that doesn’t prioritize reconciliation.

The Huffington Post Canada reached the Conservatives for comment, but the party did not respond to the request.

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