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Minority Government offers Hope for First Nations

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WHITEHORSE, Yukon - For the first time in a quarter-century Canadians have
elected a minority government in their federal election.

Though winning a fourth consecutive term dating back to 1993, the Liberal
Party however failed to earn enough seats in Ottawa to run its own agenda
following the vote on June 28. That might be good news for First Nations as
there's a general consensus they would be pleased with the likelihood of a
coalition between the Liberals (center) and the New Democratic Party (NDP).

Of the 308 electoral districts across the country, the Liberals garnered
135 and the NDP captured 19, which would combine for exactly half of the
seats. (The right-of-center Conservatives won 99, the Bloc Quebecois 54 and
there was one independent elected.) In total votes cast, there is a
different perspective.

"If you were to look at the overall popular vote, most Canadians are
left-leaning," said Ed Schultz, the Grand Chief for the Council of Yukon
First Nations referring to an almost 57 percent support nationwide of the
Liberals, NDP and the Green Party. "In terms of the social agenda, that's
healthy."

For the Liberals, they have publicly stated numerous times how they want to
see improvements for Native Canadians. The party's written platform
included Aboriginal issues that were listed second only to health care on
the social program.

During his campaign, Prime Minister Paul Martin said he would consider it a
personal failure if in his time as leader conditions for First Nations did
not rise significantly. So much so his mandate included personally chairing
a Cabinet Committee on Aboriginal Affairs this past April, a forum that's
likely to continue with the new government.

In the farthest district from Ottawa, Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell
easily was re-elected in the Yukon. For the last six months he's held the
position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian and Northern
Affairs and he's pleased Canadians have given his party some latitude to
continue from where they left before Parliament was dissolved.

Addressing his party supporters on election night in Whitehorse, Bagnell
said "thank you" in four Native languages. With 20 percent of the
territory's population being First Nations, he understands the importance
of lobbying for their needs.

"As self-governance matures and First Nations are building sophisticated
governments, we have a government in Ottawa that understands that and that
bodes well for everyone in the Yukon," Bagnell said.

The Member of Parliament (MP) has support from the Council of Yukon First
Nations as Schultz appeared after the election to offer his
congratulations. "Larry has the distinct advantage of being an MP with
experience and he does have some portfolio duties," said the Chief. "He's
in a very good position to bring issues on the table for us like
infrastructure."

However, for most bills to be passed in the House of Commons, the Liberals
will probably need the assistance of the NDP. Dormant during the three-term
majority rule by former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, even with a modest
increase of five seats to 19, the New Democrats anticipate becoming a
significant player in Ottawa.

With a specific 15-point strategy to elevate Aboriginals regarding the
challenges they face, NDP leader Jack Layton said during his nationally
televised victory party that minority governments are successful because
they promote social causes. Addressing "Women and men, First Nations and
new immigrants," Layton emphasized his party will act as Ottawa's conscious
during the next Parliament.

"We will defend human rights, the human rights of all Canadians. We will
build a Canada that won't leave anyone behind," Layton said from Toronto.

Included in the NDP's agenda is the concept of proportional representation
whereby MPs are allocated based upon a direct percentage of the votes the
party obtains. This notion would also include mandatory Aboriginal
participation in Ottawa.

Still, of the 29 Native, Metis and Inuit candidates who were running, six
were elected including four incumbents. (Liberal candidate Miles Richardson
from Skeena-Bulkley in northwest British Columbia, wasn't victorious,
losing to the New Democrat Nathan Cullen.) This representation within the
308 seats is only slightly below the 3 percent, or nearly one million
Aboriginals that reside in Canada.