Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: Bloc Would Defend Cree People by Elizabeth Thompson

A minority government with the Bloc Quebecois holding the balance of power would be the best scenario for the Cree people, Grand Chief Ted Moses said yesterday.

"I think a minority government certainly would be beneficial because then you can count on the Bloc and other parties to ensure that the rights and interests of the aboriginal people ... are respected."

Yesterday, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe took his campaign to the northern Quebec riding of Nunavik-Eeyou - fittingly, on national aboriginals' day.

He called on the federal government to negotiate a "paix des braves" with the Cree, similar to the one that the Parti Quebecois government struck with them.

The landmark deal, signed in 2002, heralded a new era of co-operation between Quebec and the Cree, who got millions in cash payouts and in return accepted Hydro-Quebec installations on the Eastmain and Rupert Rivers.

Moses said the deal has resulted in concrete improvements for the Cree and a federal deal could help them develop even further.

"It would give the Cree nation the tools to develop as a nation." Moses estimates the deal could bring them $70 million a year.

However, he said talks with Ottawa have made little progress.

"With the federal government, we have been embroiled in a process. Process after process."

While Moses broke with tradition to endorse the PQ in last year's provincial election, he fell short yesterday of endorsing the Bloc candidate in the riding.

But he said the Bloc understands the Cree, and they can work with the Bloc - particularly if it holds the balance of power.

"I think it would be very positive because ... they can assist in creating the necessary lobbies in Ottawa." However, Moses is worried about the prospect of a Conservative government.

"There is concern that rather than making progressive changes that would be toward the benefit of the aboriginal people and the whole of Canada, that there could be some major setbacks."

Moses also had reservations about the Liberal Party, but praise for local Liberal MP Guy St-Julien, saying that if he is re-elected it will be because of his own character.

As the campaign heads into its final week, Duceppe no longer shies away from speculation about the Bloc wielding the balance of power, and is starting to use that prospect to convince people to vote for the Bloc.

For example, speaking to about 100 supporters in the riding of Chicoutimi-Le Fjord Sunday, Duceppe said that the area will have more clout if it votes for the Bloc candidate, Robert Bouchard, than if it re-elects the incumbent Liberal MP, Andre Harvey.

Liberal Social Development Minister Liza Frulla questioned Duceppe's logic. If being in opposition and holding the balance of power is so much more powerful than being a member of a government, why is it that the PQ keeps wanting to form a government, she asked.

This article first appeared in The Gazette (Montreal) and was written by Elizabeth Thompson who can be contacted via e-mail at:

Tuesday, June 22, 2004