A realistic Aboriginal agenda is nowhere to be found

In 2007, Manitoba voters reelected their NDP government, while Saskatchewan voters defeated theirs. Two elections, opposite results. What do they mean? In the following pages, Chris Adams examines polling data that cast light on the election outcomes, while I look back at the career of Seymour Martin Lipset, whose Agrarian Socialism remains the definitive analysis of Saskatchewan’s original social democratic government.

In both these provinces, the NDP is the “natural governing party.” Its provincial leaders are pragmatic, interested more in incremental change than the rhetorical flourishes that inspire the federal NDP. But at least in Saskatchwan, there is a sense among the party leadership that its agenda of social policy reforms dating back to Tommy Douglas’s initial victory in 1944 is at an end.

If the Douglas agenda is exhausted, there is no consensus as to what comes next. Should the Saskatchewan NDP pose as responsible managers of the current economic boom? Should it go aggressively green? Should its leaders do something – it is not clear what – about the disconnect between themselves and the federal leadership?

The great Prairie accomplishment over the 20th century is to have created Canada’s first successful multicultural society; the great failure is not to have extended it to include Aboriginals. A quarter of Canada’s 1.2 million Aborignals live in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; they are 15 per cent of the two provinces’ population. In both provinces, NDP leaders acceded to the agenda of rural-based chiefs aspiring to a parallel society based on treaties and cash transfers, in which education and employment are secondary priorities. At best, the chiefs’ agenda makes sense for the one quarter of Aboriginals who live on-reserve; it is woefully inadequate for the rest. Unfortunately, neither of these 2007 elections hinted at an alternate agenda for this, the principal Prairie dilemma of the coming generation.

Click to read Diverging Paths by Chris Adams and The De Tocqueville of Saskatchewan by John Richards.