TORONTO — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was booed at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly Thursday after he was unable to explain how he's different from Stephen Harper.
Scheer had just finished a speech at Ottawa's Westin hotel, pledging his commitment to reconciliation when the floor was opened to questions. Former prime minister Harper "lost the trust from First Nations," a speaker said before asking Scheer to name one policy change that differs him from his predecessor.
The opposition leader did not answer the question. "I'm going to have to ask you to have a little patience for when our platform gets released," he said, promising that there will be "clear demarcations" between the two leaders.
The response seemingly didn't pass muster with the hundreds of delegates in the ballroom. Many started booing Scheer.
"Obviously in the last election, we did not gain the support of a large majority of First Nations communities and peoples and we want to fix that," he said.
Scheer explained it's "frustrating" for him to hear grievances against his party's record with Indigenous Peoples since "it was Conservative governments that have recognize Indigenous rights, have extended the vote to First Nations people, appointed the first First Nations senator."
He pointed out that the previous Conservative government under Harper introduced a specific claims fast track to address Indigenous land rights issues.
Specific claims are ones that address injustices from the management of First Nations funds or assets related to Canada's obligations under historic treaties. There are 407 specific claims either in assessment or negotiation as of February, according to parliament's standing committee on Indigenous and northern affairs.
Scheer did not acknowledge how the previous Conservative government slashed land claims-related research funding for First Nations by 40 per cent — a cut that hasn't been reversed by the Liberals.
First Nations often rely on federal money to fund research related to filing land claims.
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Earlier, the Conservative leader made his pre-election appeal to Indigenous leaders by speaking about wealth, advocating a working relationship with Indigenous communities to ensure long-term prosperity in the spirit of "economic reconciliation."
Scheer acknowledged a need to repair the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Conservative party.
"We recognize that sometimes in our haste to move the ball forward we've lost sight of the fact that it is just as important to advance a relationship as it is to advance policies," he said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also spoke to AFN delegates. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the gathering Tuesday where he offered a mea culpa on the government's failure on its duty to properly consult Indigenous Peoples on the Trans Mountain pipeline.
"We are in the process now of going back and listening even more," Trudeau said.
On top of meeting with premiers, the prime minister is expected to continue talks with Indigenous leaders from the AFN, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Métis National Council during a first ministers meeting in Montreal Friday.
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