Merasty wants accord revived

PUBLICATION: The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) | DATE: 2006.09.30 | BYLINE: Jeremy Warren | SOURCE: The StarPhoenix

Saskatchewan Liberal MP Gary Merasty says he hopes to embarrass the federal government into reviving the abandoned $5.1-billion Kelowna accord.

The MP for Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River tabled a motion in the House of Commons Friday calling on the Conservative government to immediately implement the agreement.

"With a $13.2-billion surplus there is absolutely no reason for aboriginal people to have to live in Third World conditions, particularly when the Kelowna accord provided a road map and a consensus for a way forward," Merasty said.

He expects a vote on the motion in October. It should have no trouble passing, Merasty said, because the NDP and Bloc Quebecois both supported Kelowna, and a show of public support in Parliament would force the government to clearly state its position on the agreement.

The accord, signed by premiers, then-prime minister Paul Martin and aboriginal leaders in November 2005, was to provide First Nations with $5.1 billion over five years to improve education, health and housing problems.

Since the January federal election, the Conservatives have declined to honour the agreement.

Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice said in an interview the government is moving on plans laid out in the last budget, specifically on issues dealing with aboriginal women and children.

Roughly $450 million for education and housing on reserves was set aside for aboriginals in the budget.

"This government in March put forward a budget that included $3.7 billion of additional expenditures on aboriginal programs and services over two years. That's more than what was contained in the previous five Liberal budgets put together," Prentice said.

He added the solutions to problems discussed in Kelowna will be fixed through targeted programs and structural changes.

"The answer is not to simply pour more money into the funnel, the solution is to rethink how we're delivering programs and whether or not we're moving forward to make First Nations communities stronger and more independent," Prentice said, adding the money was never there for Kelowna in the first place.

jjwarren@sp.canwest.com