OTTAWA – When Gov. Gen. David Johnston delivers the speech from the throne on Friday, he is expected to address reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples as one of the government’s central commitments in the new session of Parliament.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said she will hear the address for the first time when it is delivered in the Upper Chamber but she points out that the prime minister has signalled clearly and often that the relationship with aboriginal peoples “is the most important relationship to him and to Canada.”
“I think that the chiefs and indigenous people across Canada have been heartened by what exactly is in the mandate letter of every minister,” Bennett said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Indeed, the Liberals’ frequent reference to the need to forge a fresh relationship with the country’s First Nation, Inuit and Metis peoples means expectations are already running high.
And with a series of key events set for the coming weeks, hopes will undoubtedly climb even further.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has confirmed he will address a special chiefs meeting next Tuesday hosted by the Assembly of First Nations in Ottawa – a gathering that falls a week ahead of the final report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission probing Canada’s dark residential school legacy.
Trudeau has committed to implementing all 94 recommendations put forward by the TRC earlier this year, including a pledge to move forward on an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Bennett said she hopes to unveil details of a pre-inquiry consultation process shortly but she has stressed the need to set out the right terms of reference, the role for families and the role of ceremony.
“People are relieved that we have taken this extra care to … commit to the inquiry but also to make sure that even the process for the pre-inquiry engagement be as caring as it can be for the families,” she said.
“We hope we will find that balance of the urgency of the inquiry but also the importance of getting it right.”
The government has clearly made the inquiry a high priority, said AFN Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day.
“This minister has been very close to the issue,” he said.
Day anticipates more details will be available following Johnston’s address.
“I think the speech from the throne just formalizes the work plan of this government over the next year and this certainly has been a high priority on that list,” he said.
The throne speech will also address the centrepiece of the Liberals’ winning electoral platform – a plan to raise taxes on Canada’s biggest breadwinners, while easing the burden on middle-income earners.
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The Liberals have said rejigging the federal tax brackets will be their first action in Parliament.
The proposal, however, has attracted criticism.
The New Democrats say the Liberal plan will benefit higher-earning Canadians and provide nothing for low-income earners.
The NDP also wants the government to cut taxes for people in the lowest tax bracket, made up of those who earn less than $44,701 per year.
This week, the C.D. Howe Institute think-tank released a study arguing the Liberal tax changes will likely lead to multibillion-dollar annual revenue shortfalls for Ottawa and the provinces.
The report said high-income earners will likely make greater efforts to avoid paying the higher taxes.
-with files from Andy Blatchford