Leef offers less than meets the eye

It's hard to not be cynical about MP Ryan Leef's public disagreement with Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the matter of whether there should be a national inquiry into the matter of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

It’s hard to not be cynical about MP Ryan Leef’s public disagreement with Prime Minister Stephen Harper over the matter of whether there should be a national inquiry into the matter of missing and murdered aboriginal women. Is this anything more than a bit of carefully staged political theatre, designed to address the perception that Leef is a spineless toady of his boss?

We don’t know, although we suspect the answer to be a negative. But let’s give Leef some credit: it’s refreshing to hear him speak about a matter of public interest in a way that drifts from the party line. It would be nice to hear him do more of it, although anyone familiar with how tightly the Conservative Party controls the messaging of its MPs will understand that’s extremely unlikely to happen.

Let’s also give Leef credit for this: it’s an issue worth talking about. He did, however, give undeserving credit to Premier Darrell Pasloski for showing leadership on the matter of calling for this national inquest. In fact, Pasloski was among the last premiers in Canada to issue such a statement, and only did so after being prodded by the Opposition here.

Instead, the real credit is due to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, which says it has documented over 600 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women between 2005 and 2010. A petition by the association prompted the premiers to throw their support behind the request. According to the organization, First Nation women are five times more likely than other Canadians to be killed by violence. Cases of missing First Nation women are also far more likely to go unresolved. This is a matter that could certainly be on the minds of more Canadians.

Let’s also be clear on this point: it’s unlikely that Leef’s outburst will move the matter any closer towards any resolution.

He hasn’t actually called on Harper to do anything. Instead, he’s demanded that premiers and First Nation chiefs help foot the bill for a national inquiry. Given that these parties are, in all likelihood, not actually listening to Leef, that’s probably where the matter will continue to lie.

Also note that Leef has not actually said he thinks a national inquiry is a good idea. He’s merely acknowledged one would be popular with his constituents.

This is perhaps not as gormless as it appears. Leef gives a nod to Harper’s own reservations that such exercises are often costly waste of time. Better to act than talk, Harper says, and it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment, at least.

However, the Conservatives’ actions appear to be limited to what fits into their “tough on crime” schtick. Measures include boosting victim services and launching violence prevention programs aimed at young aboriginal women. It’s unclear to us whether this programming has made any impact in the Yukon.

The government has also passed a bill that would give divorced on-reserve aboriginal women more property rights. As the territory has no reserve, this doesn’t affect the Yukon.

Everyone can agree that the disproportionate amount of violence that First Nation women face is intolerable. Unfortunately, the contributing factors to this violence are fiendishly difficult to resolve. Lingering trauma incurred at residential schools continues to pass from one generation to the next and addictions are widespread in many First Nation communities.

In short, much of the violence that First Nation women face is yet another expression of broader community dysfunction, and addressing such deep-seated problems probably requires a fuller accounting of the social-development side of the ledger than the Conservatives are willing to consider. It’s also, of course, a bigger problem than the federal government alone can solve – but Ottawa’s frosty relationship with many First Nation governments doesn’t make it any easier to create a co-ordinated effort to make headway.