Let’s talk about a different model of governance

Lars Hagberg/AFP;Justin Tang/The Canadian Press; Adrian Wild/The Canadian Press

The Hill Times, October 7, 2019

Jody Wilson Raybould is running as an Independent candidate in Vancouver-Granville following the SNC-Lavalin affair this past winter and her separation from the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party candidate, meanwhile, told The Hill Times last week that “People in this riding need things to happen for them … and it’s hard to do that when you’re sitting on the outside.”

On the outside. I’m sure this was not meant to raise the spectre of First Nations being on the outside of the political system, but it’s hard to ignore.

Historically, Indigenous peoples didn’t win the right to vote until well after the suffragette movement in 1918. We all received the right to vote in 1960. First Nations didn’t even have the right to raise funds to hire a lawyer (to perhaps fight for human rights) until the mid 1950s. It’s important to remember this context: World War II showed humanity’s depravity when human rights are systemically violated, and the United Nations acted decisively to ensure things like the Holocaust would never happen again through the Declaration of Human Rights. Canada signed on but didn’t include “Indians,” as they were not considered citizens by the federal government. The UN had to pressure Canada to include us as citizens with rights. Canada relented and many onerous parts of the Indian Act were dropped.

Indigenous peoples have fought to be included through influential Indigenous leaders and court cases. Is it just the status quo that keeps us outside or is it because Indigenous people can bring a different culture and perspective to politics? Are we on the outside because we want something different?

I doubt that Indigenous peoples want something drastically different from any other Canadian. But in my discussions with Indigenous people across the country, we do want representation. We want a government that not only can deal with different perspectives, we want a government that values diversity. There are many barriers to achieving this in politics today. The current party system, majority government, and first past-the-post are not serving us well. So let’s talk about a different model of governance. Norway, Sweden, Iceland, France, and many countries function quite well in coalition government models. In Canada, we call this a minority government, but it’s essentially the same thing. In coalition governments, parties are forced to work together, and perhaps even want to work together. Consensus includes views from multiple parties, more diverse voices are heard, and the power of a party centre is decreased.

Let’s talk about how parties are led. My Elders tell me that the model of one leader is just risky. So let me share a story. In Tlingit communities, we did not move to the chief and council mode of government when Canada required First Nations communities to emulate British governance. My community maintained its proven model, a model of consensus. We have two clans, and a spokesperson from each clan is named and the two spokespeople jointly work together to lead. But the word “lead” has much different connotations than in mainstream politics. In a Tlingit worldview, a leader is one who protects community, who serves community, and therefore needs the internal strength to withstand this pressure. Our Haida cousins represent this strength in the cedar hats: each weaving of a ring in the hat represents the ability of a leader to withstand the pressure which is almost like the pressure of being underwater. So communities raise a leader from birth, we did not traditionally elect a leader. And then we shared leadership, because it’s difficult.

A coalition government could achieve this, too. A coalition government might value diversity, different perspectives, different approaches to conflict resolution and discussion. This might be a stretch, but I would hope a coalition government would encompass leaders like Jody Wilson-Raybould, Jane Philpott, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, and others with unique and valuable perspectives.

Diversity is not a distraction. Let’s put diversity right in the centre of it all.