‘Shameless self promotion?’ Leef should look in the mirror

This is in response to MP Ryan Leef's public berating of the Liberals' Larry Bagnell in respect to his comments about efforts to recognize fetal alcohol spectrum disorder within the criminal justice system.

COMMENTARY

by Marian Horne

This is in response to MP Ryan Leef’s public berating of the Liberals’ Larry Bagnell by claiming that Bagnell was “working on something for his own shameless self-promotion” in respect to his comments about efforts to recognize fetal alcohol spectrum disorder within the criminal justice system.

Credit should be given when it is deserved. I remind you that Larry Bagnell was voted the “hardest working MP” by his peers in Parliament while he represented Yukon as MP.

Although I was a minister with another political party, when I visited Ottawa and sat in on sittings of the House of Commons, Larry was there to graciously welcome me and give me a tour of the parliamentary offices and introducing his colleagues. We discussed the importance of addressing FASD and the work he was doing on the issue in Ottawa.

He never stooped to criticize the Opposition to make himself seem more important or superior. It was always about the people. That is the type of person I would like to represent me as a constituent: someone with integrity, honestly, humbleness, backed by a clear understanding of their constituents’ issues and the tenacity to follow through on “realistic promises.”

The issue of FASD was brought to the attention of the federal minister of justice, Rob Nicholson, in 2009 when I organized and invited him to a meeting with Yukon stakeholder groups dealing with people living with the disorder. It was after that meeting that Nicholson gave the issue national prominence, and he publicly acknowledged this meeting at several national meetings for bringing the issue to his attention.

Simultaneously, Rod Snow and the Canadian Bar Association had drafted legislation which was ready in 2010. I was honoured to be a guest of the Canadian Bar Association’s presentation, along with Nicholson, at their annual meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2010.

So, Mr. Leef, give yourself another pat on the back and a gold star for work that others have already done for you with no credit or accolade. You’re welcome!

FASD has supposedly been on the national forefront since 2010. Yet, five years later, concrete plans are still not in place to address this crucial issue to improve the lives of those people living with the hardship. This is the biggest issue: these individuals require safe, affordable, supervised accommodation in every Yukon community, not only in Whitehorse. Government profits from the sales tax of alcohol and cigarettes, therefore some of that money should go toward the care of those adversely affected.

Most importantly, we should provide adequate funding to address the root causes of the issue. That means funding to address ending violence against aboriginal women in Yukon, instead of ineffective Band Aid remedies. This would be a tangible proactive step, in lieu of your reactive approach when they are already in the court system.

It would also mean addressing

the devastating effects of residential schools in Yukon, which have been lasting and widespread. A large percentage of Yukon’s population has had direct or indirect contact with residential schools. This fact relates to high rates of substance abuse, which continues to be the most significant driver of crime in Yukon.

Related to residential schools’ traumatic legacy is the fact that Northern Canada has significantly higher rates of sexualized violence than southern jurisdictions, and a disproportionate number of First Nation residents participate in the justice system as offenders. This, again, requires proactive steps in improving the lives of people living with trauma and thus the beginning to effectively help prevent FASD.

In 2008, the prime minister issued an official apology to First Nation people regarding residential schools. Prime Minister Harper laid the foundation for the continued relationship growth between the Government of Canada and First Nations people. This apology meant something to First Nation families and communities. It created an expectation that the journey and partnership was “just beginning,” rather than “approaching its end.” This apology alone will not restore the cultural integrity and create personal healing of residential school survivors, their families and communities.

Harper stated “there is no place in Canada for the attitudes that inspired the Indian residential schools system to ever prevail again,” yet it continues. Canada has a fiduciary obligation to aboriginal peoples. Within that obligation is the responsibility to provide funding and resources for programs and services that best serve the needs of our communities for healing.

To serve your constituents, Mr. Leef, this is the issue you should be focusing on to make good the promises that were made which we thought was the beginning of a partnership. Instead, you are the culprit who is shamelessly promoting yourself and giving yourself credit at the expense of everyone else’s hard work.

In October 2013, you publicly supported a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women across Canada. Later, in an about-face, you sided with the prime minister and said you would have to have further “chats with your constituents” to see what they think. How can we make it clearer for you?

In the upcoming national and territorial election, Yukoners should think carefully before marking your “X” on the ballot. Those of you who do not normally participate or take advantage of your constitutional right to vote: your voice is important and does count, you must make sure it is heard and that is by getting out to vote. Vote for the candidate you feel will represent you, your family and community and who will have the strength to stand up for those expectations.

If we want to attract top-calibre candidates to run for office, politicians should not stoop to publicly demean or disrespect those who, I would hope, have the best interest of their constituents first and foremost on their mind. Politics is becoming a nasty game, which is disgraceful to the purpose and intent of parliamentary procedure. It is becoming a politicians’ game of public personal character assassinations, promoting lateral violence as sport.

Marian Horne is president of the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, second vice-president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and a former territorial justice minister and attorney general for Yukon. The views expressed are her own.