“Anybody but Harper.”
Grand Chief Phillip Stewart didn’t mince words when it came to the message he has for Okanagan voters.
“Clearly, after nine and a half years of fighting, the Harper government has demonstrated that the Conservative Party of government is very hostile and adversarial to First Nation rights and interests,” he said, Thursday.
“Right from the time they took power, they completely trashed the Kelowna Accord, which presented $5.1 billion in funding for desperately needed new health, education, housing and infrastructure.”
The Harper government, he said, has pursued a unilateral legislative agenda that has not served the interest of aboriginal people in this country.
“They have been very consistent in their campaign against the interests of aboriginal people,” he said, pointing out that they are the only party that absolutely refused to consider a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Stewart also takes issue with the Harper government’s misuse of the term ‘surplus.’
“This so-called surplus was achieved by defunding and underfunding programs to aboriginals and veterans, and the most marginalized groups in Canada,” he said.
Phillip’s view on the government is clear, but while he encourages aboriginal people to vote for anybody other than Harper, he stops himself short at offering his personal pick for prime minister.
“I guess in many ways, my wife and I honour the memories of aboriginal veterans that fought for the democratic rights for our people,” he said, explaining that aboriginal people in B.C. didn’t get the vote until 1949 and in Canada until 1960.
“That was a hard struggle, so I vote in every election. I urge all people to go out and express themselves at the ballot box.”
A rise in First Nation voter turnout is something that he expects to see happen, given recent grassroots efforts for political change.
The momentum from Idle No More, a 2012 grassroots mobilization of aboriginal and non aboriginal Canadians against Harper, is still noticeable, he said.
“It was inclusive and it brought Canadians together,” he said, saying he believed that energy would continue in years to come.
It’s an exciting time, for the veteran politician, who’s been fighting for aboriginal rights for over four decades.
“It was exciting because it brought so many different diverse groups together, native and non native alike, for a common purpose—to speak out against the Harper government,” he said.