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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks in Ottawa on Sept. 30, 2013. (ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks in Ottawa on Sept. 30, 2013. (ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

First Nations issues would be top priority for an NDP government, Mulcair says Add to ...

Thomas Mulcair promises that a federal government led by his New Democrats would make First Nations issues a top priority and that he would take a personal hand in their resolution.

It is not a pledge that is likely to sway large numbers of voters. First Nations people make up less than 3 per cent of the Canadian population, voter turnout on reserves has been well below the national average, and non-aborginal Canadians do not, in general, rank indigenous issues high on a scale of importance.

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But NDP sources say the NDP Leader’s interest in the First Nations file is personal. And, they say, despite the fact that he is clearly in pre-election mode with the next vote potentially a year-and-a-half away, this is not something he has taken on for political gain.

“It’s with a great deal of modesty that I look at the First Nations issues and realize that it’s a daunting task,” Mr. Mulcair told reporters on Sunday. “Whatever experience I have is going to be brought to bear on that because I believe firmly, personally, deeply that it is time to start getting to solutions on those issues.”

Mr. Mulcair embarked this summer on what he called a “listening tour” of First Nations communities. He spent much time with Shawn Atleo, the leader of the Assembly of First Nations. And, on Sunday, the day before the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation that set the guidelines for British settlement in North America, he held a gathering for a large number of native leaders at Stornoway, the residence of the Leader of the Official Opposition.

“If you don’t make [First Nations issues] a priority,” he said, “if you don’t bring it to the cabinet table and make sure that, at the cabinet level, you have a committee responsible for ensuring that everything that we do respects First Nations’ inherent rights, their treaty rights and Canada’s international obligations with regard to aboriginal communities, it’s not going to get done.”

Mr. Mulcair may be looking at a number of Conservative-held ridings in Saskatchewan where the boundaries have been redrawn in ways that open possibilities for the NDP, said Nik Nanos, the president of Nanos Research. Unlike many other parts of the country, First Nations voters are a significant factor in those ridings, he said.

But, even in Saskatchewan, there are just a handful of constituencies where First Nations issues could affect the election result.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mulcair is preparing for by-elections in four ridings including Toronto Centre where the resignation of former Liberal leader Bob Rae gives the New Democrats a chance to expand the inroads they made in that city during the 2011 election.

But the NDP Leader is being forced to explain that some of the views expressed by his candidate, journalist and social critic Linda McQuaig, are not reflective of party policy.

Ms. McQuaig’s 2011 book, The Trouble With Billionaires, advocates that the taxes on annual incomes of $500,000 or more be hiked to a rate of 60 per cent, and that anyone making more than $2.5-million be taxed at a rate of 70 per cent. In addition, she proposes a tax of 70 per cent on any inheritance over $50-million.

The NDP, on the other hand, has promised that it would not raise personal taxes, something Mr. Mulcair reiterated on Sunday.

“I am so proud to have someone with the energy, experience, enthusiasm and guts of Linda McQuaig running for us,” he said. “She’s an extraordinary candidate. She’s put so much thought into issues over the years but she’s also playing now as part of the team and there’s not the slightest problem with that.”

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