By Maurice Switzer
Spring is a time when I usually find myself pondering life’s big questions.
Like, if cops are clamping down on drunk driving, how come they don’t stop those free samples being poured for shoppers on their way to the parking lot?
Is there a reason that stores sell wieners in packages of ten and hot dog buns in packages of eight?
Why in God’s name would Stephen Harper appoint Patrick Brazeau to the Senate?
It might not be readily apparent, but these issues are related.
During his tenure as boss of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), Brazeau was accused – among other things – of routinely using his corner office to serve cocktails to friends and colleagues.
As for the wiener connection, that’s what Brazeau looked like last year after getting his nose bloodied in a three-round boxing match with a somewhat scrawnier-looking Justin Trudeau. Brazeau claims to be a black belt in karate, but it looked like the only belt he had ever held was out of a bottle of Canadian Club.
Despite being burdened with a lot of personal baggage – missed child-support payments , sexual harassment charges – Harper’s talent scouts had tagged Brazeau as an ideal Aboriginal voice for the Conservative Party caucus. The PM is especially fond of finding Indigenous patsies to act as mouthpieces for a legislative agenda that is decidedly unfriendly and disrespectful of First Peoples.
He made Inuit Leona Aglukkaq his health minister, responsible for overseeing an Uninsured Benefits Program that takes so long to approve treaty-guaranteed services that some First Nations sufferers have been known to pull out abscessed teeth with pliers.
Then he engineered Plains Cree Rob Clarke to be the back-bench sponsor of a private member’s bill to “reform” the Indian Act, as much an attempt to impose government will on Indians as the original legislation in 1876.
And who better to ensure that Parliament’s chamber of “sober second thought” contained a supportive Conservative voice than Patrick Brazeau, a citizen of Kitigan Zibi whose first language is French.
Brazeau first caught the PM’s eye in 2006 when CAP endorsed the Conservatives in the campaign leading up to the first Harper win. The organization, of which Brazeau was vice-president at the time, had endorsed the Kelowna Accord, a comprehensive $5 billion, ten-year commitment to close the gap in the quality of life between Aboriginal Peoples and the rest of Canada. The Accord, the result of 18 months of negotiations, had resulted in a rare display of unanimity between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, as well as the five national organizations representing First Peoples in Canada.
Two weeks after the Conservatives won the January, 2006 election, Dwight Dorey resigned as CAP chief and was succeeded by Brazeau. Speaking to a parliamentary committee that was discussing the accord in November 2006, Brazeau argued that, while the process that led to the agreement seemed inclusive, in fact, “Kelowna provided false hope for grassroots people – real people, in real need – while enriching organizations and the aboriginal elite.”
Shortly thereafter, the new Harper government increased CAP’s annual budget from $5 million to $6.3 million.
Like so many federal promises before it, the Kelowna Accord faded from the government agenda. Two years later, Harper appointed Brazeau, then 34, to the Senate. In the four years since, he has parroted the Conservative party line about alleged lack of First Nations financial accountability.
He grabbed some national limelight in January, poking fun at Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger-strike near Parliament Hill, and making some snotty comments about her weight.
It looked like clear sailing for Brazeau to his 2049 Senate retirement finish line, at an annual $132,000 salary – plus merit pay and cost-of-living adjustments, of course. Until Feb. 7, when he was released on bail after being charged with assault and domestic assault after an incident at his home in Gatineau, Quebec. Apparently he throws punches at women more effectively than he did at Justin Trudeau.
Harper said he was “appalled and disappointed….and very let down”, then kicked his protégé out of the caucus, which means Brazeau gets to keep his salary but not attend all those boring meetings. As conditions of his bail, Sen. Brazeau cannot possess any firearms, must notify police of any change of address, and demonstrate good behaviour. (It’s a bit late for the latter provision, wouldn’t you say?)
One key Conservative advisor who was on the same wave length on aboriginal issues as Brazeau was former Harper campaign manager Tom Flanagan. A transplanted American academic who once bragged that he had never set foot on a First Nation reserve, Flanagan suggested that Ottawa could eliminate all 633 of them by gradually eliminating federal funding. This brainwave sounded a lot like Duncan Campbell Scott’s suggestion that sending Native kids to residential schools would make their Indian-ness disappear.
Flanagan has also fallen out of favour with the PM, by virtue of his remarks at a recent speaking engagement at the University of Lethbridge where he told his audience there is no need to jail people who watch child pornography because they really don’t harm anybody.
With two former cronies out of commission, guess there’ll be no more stag parties in the PM’s office – you know, crack open a two-four, watch a couple of flicks – or maybe just some still photos. About the only things left to do for kicks is pull the wings off flies or dream up some bills to make it even tougher for First Nations youngsters to dream of brighter futures.