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After the Election, I Hope for a Sustainable Economy

We need to be smarter with economic opportunities, says Indigenous entrepreneur. Part of a series on dreams beyond Oct. 19.

By David P. Ball 14 Oct 2015 | TheTyee.ca

David P. Ball is a staff reporter with The Tyee. Send him tips or comments by email, find him on Twitter @davidpball, or read his previous Tyee reporting here.

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Adrian Duke: 'What I hope for is a scientific basis for decisions.'

Adrian Duke isn't a fan of politics, or this election campaign. "It makes me cringe," he confesses. "The attack ads, the blatant lies, the gamesmanship."

With each week, the 28-year-old Vancouver entrepreneur said, "the more ridiculous it's gotten."

Duke, originally from the Muscowpetung First Nation in Saskatchewan, moved to Nelson, B.C. when he was 14. He hoped for more when he started taking an interest in politics -- a debate on "real issues" that matter to him, things like strengthening small businesses, investing in green energy and innovation, making political decisions based on scientific evidence and increasing transparency and public input.

Take one example. Duke said he hasn't yet taken a stance on pipelines from Alberta's oilsands through British Columbia, although many First Nations are opposed. He's worked on oil rigs and understands "we're a fossil-fuel driven society."

Pipeline and energy proposals have created friction among First Nations, he said, with companies and governments "trying to get buy-in by dangling jobs and opportunities." Those benefits -- often short-term jobs -- need to be carefully weighed against long-term risks and benefits and potential divisions they can create, Duke said.

Duke is an entrepreneur who was named as one of BC Business magazine's Top 30 Under 30 this year. He's the CEO of water slide firm Skyturtle Technologies and co-owner of a new downtown Vancouver business.

He's looking for a new way of doing politics and making decisions. "If science became a much bigger part of the conversation," he argued, "we'd be pursuing many other alternative energy sources and pursuing other business opportunities.

"Our environment is being taken advantage of," he said. "We're coddling industry, a small subset of people who never really think for the greater good. That's what government is supposed to do -- to look out for the greater good and our younger generations."

Asked what he's looking forward to after Monday's election, Duke said government transparency is among the biggest issues affecting him -- as a citizen, businessman and Aboriginal person.

"What I hope for is a scientific basis for decisions," he said. "And for more consultation with First Nations, so that when job opportunities come up, we can confidently chase them -- that they're not pushed through without our consent.

"There are challenges we're all going to have to face as a generation -- an aging population, our health care system, poverty. I don't think anyone's really addressing those adequately."

What the parties promise on Aboriginal issues

The parties all devote parts of their platforms to Aboriginal issues. The Liberals, New Democrats and Greens have promised to implement all 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations, which include reducing the number of Indigenous people in foster care and prison; bringing education and health funding on reserves up to the levels provided for other Canadians; and calling a public inquiry into missing and murdered women.

The Green Party also pledges to include First Nations, Métis and Inuit leadership in its proposed Council of Canadian Governments alongside provincial leaders. And Elizabeth May's party has vowed to "bury the Indian Act," century-old legislation that created the reserve system and federally funded tribal governments. (The Conservatives have also pledged to repeal the controversial law, but for different reasons.)

Education for Indigenous people remains a sore point in many communities, with children in First Nations receiving less funding than their off-reserve peers.

To close the gap, the Liberals would ramp up core funding for Aboriginal primary and secondary school programs. The last two Conservative budgets committed almost $300 million a year over four years. The Liberals have vowed to double that to $600 million and gradually increase funding to $750 million after four years.

The NDP has pledged to increase annual funding to $450 million for the next four years, with additional big increases in a second term.

On Aboriginal issues, Conservatives boast in their platform that they created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- although that was forced upon them by the residential schools lawsuit settlement. The Harper government was criticized for dragging its feet in providing the commission with residential schools' evidence.

Tories promise to boost their Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, which funds First Nations members to increase their economic participation and find "high-paying" jobs. Harper's platform also praised his controversial First Nations Financial Transparency Act, which forces bands to release their financial and salary information. And perhaps most radically, a re-elected Conservative government would allow reserves -- which under the Indian Act are communally managed -- to be divided up into privately owned property.

What the parties promise on science and clean energy

Meanwhile, Adrian Duke's concerns about the role of scientists and their research -- their right to speak openly about their taxpayer-funded work and its importance in supporting evidence-based decisions -- are addressed in the platforms of all three major opposition parties.

The Greens promised to pass a "Public Access to Science" bill that ensures scientists are "unmuzzled... without censorship or political interference." The party would also inject $75 million a year into the federal departments of health, parks, environment and fisheries and oceans to "add critical science capacity." And Greens would pass a law requiring all new regulations and legislation to be justified with "sound evidence."

The Green Party opposes what it calls "high-risk" bitumen pipelines, tankers and the oilsands. It promises a retraining plan for industry workers as their jobs are phased out. And inspired by B.C.'s carbon tax, the party pledged a Canada-wide Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.

Elizabeth May's party is also a cheerleader for clean energy, and has pledged to provide Green Technology Commercialization Grants to help Canadian entrepreneurs compete at home and abroad. And it would increase funding for research and development on innovation in the manufacturing and tech sectors aimed at sparking an "economic revolution of clean technology."

Other parties have big plans for clean tech and energy sectors, too.

The Liberals have promised to invest almost $1.5 billion a year in "green infrastructure" for the next four years, increasing that in subsequent years to $2.3 billion annually -- a total of $20 billion over the next decade for everything from "climate-resilient" adaptation, renewable energy sources, contaminated site cleanup and improved water systems.

Justin Trudeau's party would also issue Green Bonds through its promised Canada Infrastructure Bank. Investors would buy the bonds and the money would be used for low-cost loans and loan guarantees for private sector investors, targeted at projects including clean energy projects, smart grid technology, electric public transit, alternative energy transmission lines, retrofitting buildings to boost energy efficiency and creating more electric vehicle charging stations. The Liberals would also launch a Canadian Energy Strategy aimed at increasing the proportion of clean energy in the country's power grid.

The New Democrats have also pitched their own version of the green bond plan, which they say is based on the World Bank's tools for raising capital for environmentally progressive initiatives. The proceeds from the sale of the bonds would be invested in green business initiatives like renewable energy and eco-retrofitting industry. The NDP suggests such private investments in green bonds could top nearly $5 billion.

Even the Conservatives have pledged to get on the clean tech and energy train. The party pledges to "finance the development and demonstration of new, clean technologies." It will also create investment incentives for building a Canadian liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, a proposal aligned with the hopes of B.C.'s Liberal government hopes for LNG. Critics claim LNG isn't a cleaner fuel.

A re-elected Harper government would also fund electric-powered rail transit projects in Canada's big cities, including Toronto, Surrey, Ottawa and Calgary. And it would ban the construction of new traditional coal-fired electricity plants.

The Conservatives are mostly silent on the role of government-funded science, evidence-based decision-making, clean technology and transparency -- though they include platform sections on nature conservation and climate change.

The Liberals and New Democrats both tackle the muzzling of federal scientists. The Liberals have promised to revoke any rules and regulations that gag researchers and create a Chief Science Officer to encourage taxpayer-funded research to be "freely available." Trudeau would also reform the Access to Information Act so, barring clear exceptions, "all government data and information is made open by default."

The NDP would also revoke gag orders on scientists and create its own version of a public science advocate -- a Parliamentary Science Officer. It would also strengthen the Parliamentary Budget Officer's authority, and give the information commissioner powers to order the release of government information to the public.

Hope for 'meaningful change'

Duke will vote this month. But he's still not convinced it will change much, especially considering the parties' modest promises on the issues he's tracking.

"Honestly, I have to look really, really far past Oct. 19 to see anything of real value to me," he said. "I don't see anyone coming in to make any real or significant changes in my lifetime."

But no matter who wins on Monday, Duke believes Canadians are ready to turn a new page on Aboriginal reconciliation. That, he said, gives him hope for "meaningful change, rather than political jargon."

"I actually do have hope," he said, "because I believe the conversation between Canadians and First Nations is changing. I have hope the government will follow Canadians' lead -- as a government should -- and properly address the issues."  [Tyee]

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