By Neale McDevitt
You know an idea is important when traditional political adversaries join forces to make it a reality, which is exactly what happened on Sept. 4, at the Ottawa Press Gallery, when former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Joe Clark participated in a press conference announcing the launch of the Canadians For a New Partnership (CFNP) initiative.
Looking to strengthen Canada through by forging a new partnership between the Indigenous peoples and all Canadians, the CFNP has brought together an impressive team of prominent leaders from a cross-section of political, cultural and economic backgrounds, including Martin and Clark, former Assembly of First Nations national chief Ovide Mercredi, former auditor-general of Canada Sheila Fraser and Justice Murray Sinclair, who led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But as impressive as the CFNP membership may be on paper, the group is even more inspiring in action, says Phil Oxhorn, founding director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development, and someone who has been involved in the CFNP from the very beginning.
“I’ve never been in a room with that level of commitment by very, very prominent people,” says Oxhorn of the CFNP’s meetings leading up to Thursday’s press conference. “People who, earlier in their careers, may not have been very open to collaboration, working toward a common goal without pushing specific political agendas. The energy was overwhelming.”
That common goal is to bridge the perceived chasm between Indigenous peoples and other Canadians through an education campaign and public discussions. One of the key elements is reconciliation. “Our efforts, no matter how well intentioned, to improve the health, education and welfare of Indigenous peoples are destined to the same failures of the past unless we build a new partnership and restore the trust has been eroded by a litany of historic wrongs,” said Stephen Kakfwi, a former premier of the Northwest Territories who will run the organization.
It was Kakfwi who first contacted Oxhorn to see if he and McGill would be interested in being part of the CFNP. “This was right at the very beginning,” says Oxhorn, who immediately signed on. “In fact, the first meetings were held in Peterson Hall here at McGill.”
Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi also played a significant role in the early days of the CFNP, helping secure financial support from T.E. Wealth Management.
“It is very exciting to be part of this process,” says Oxhorn, “In those early meetings we needed to draft the Declaration of Canadians for a New Partnership, set our priorities and the issues to champion and establish a plan to achieve our objectives.”
The first part of that plan is a public education campaign through a speaker’s series. According to the CFNP’s website (http://www.cfnp.ca/), this series will “promote our vision and offer Canadians a new narrative, a compelling rationale, and opportunities for action with the goal of igniting and sustaining momentum towards reconciliation and partnership,” or, as Martin said at Thursday’s press conference, “the more Canadians understand the issues, the more they’ll demand solutions.”
While still the CFNP is its fledgling days, Oxhorn says just its creation should serve as a template for a new era of cooperation and partnership. “Former political adversaries, including a number of Aboriginal leaders who didn’t work together a lot, have joined forces on this in a really productive way,” he says. “And that’s exactly the point: People who don’t often collaborate actually have a lot to share and, if done in good faith, that collaboration can have a significant positive impact on all of Canadian society.”
To learn more about the CFNP and to sign the Declaration of Canadians for a New Partnership, go here.