Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

A New Model for Making Aboriginal Policy? Evaluating the Kelowna Accord and the Promise of Multilevel Governance in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Public Administration

A New Model for Making Aboriginal Policy? Evaluating the Kelowna Accord and the Promise of Multilevel Governance in Canada

Article excerpt

An enduring theme among Canadian academics and public commentators is that federal and provincial governments in this country have not been able or willing to properly accommodate the demands of Indigenous communities. As a result, Indigenous leaders have resorted to a range of tactics to protest the lack of effective government action and public policy for their constituents (Alcantara 2010; Wotherspoon and Hansen 2013). At the core of these conflicts is a fundamental incongruence between Canadian and Aboriginal worldviews. On the one hand, the federal and provincial governments view their relationship with Indigenous communities through the lens of Canadian federalism. That is, each level of government believes it has been assigned a particular set of Aboriginal responsibilities and they alone have the authority to manage those responsibilities. Sometimes those responsibilities require intergovernmental coordination and in those instances, governments rely on the familiar processes of intergovernmental relations (Jhappan 1995; Smith 2004: 55, 80; Papillon 2014). Aboriginal communities in this model are limited to acting as stakeholders rather than as equal government partners (Abele and Prince 2003).

In contrast, many Indigenous communities, leaders, and scholars see the Aboriginal-Crown relationship very differently. Rather than viewing themselves as stakeholders or junior governments, they argue that Aboriginal communities should be treated as full and equal partners in the federation, operating on a nation-to-nation basis with the Crown. Scholars of treaty federalism suggest that Canadian politicians and policymakers must take into account the constitutional status of the many treaties Indigenous governments have signed with the Crown; these treaties guarantee that Aboriginal communities are equal, yet independent partners in the policymaking process (Henderson 1994; RCAP 1994).

In reality, Aboriginal policy-making very much adheres to the Canadian federalism model (Jhappan 1995). Evidence of treaty federalism is limited and scattered. As Martin Papillon (2012) has argued, the structures of Canadian federalism remain fundamentally unchanged despite the emergence of new spaces for Aboriginal-Crown interaction. The traditional federalism model remains dominant and entrenched despite demands for more treaty federalism.

Given the lack of progress in transforming Canada into a system of treaty federalism, some scholars have turned to the concept of multilevel governance as a possible alternative (Ladner 2010; Rodon 2014; Wyatt and Nelson 2014). This concept first emerged in the early 1990s to describe a broad trend in Europe in which power seemed to be moving away from a system of government hierarchy towards "a system of continuous negotiation among nested governments at several territorial tiers" (Marks 1993: 392). Scholars in Canada have drawn on this literature to capture a range of developments, including instances of Aboriginal actors challenging the hierarchical structure of the Canadian system (Smith 2004: 80; Papillon 2012; Alcantara and Nelles 2014).

Students of Aboriginal politics have tended to favour a descriptive approach to using multilevel governance and so few scholars have empirically explored the potential of this concept for restructuring the Aboriginal-Crown relationship. In this paper, we begin to address this lacuna by providing a preliminary analysis of the promise and potential pitfalls of multilevel governance as an alternative model to Canadian and treaty federalism. To do so, we examine the policymaking processes used to generate the 2005 Kelowna Accord, an agreement that promised to spend $5.1 billion over five years on a variety of Aboriginal issues. In many ways, the Kelowna Accord was a textbook example of multilevel governance (see Alcantara and Nelles 2014). Unfortunately, the Accord was never implemented; Paul Martin's Liberal Party lost the 2006 federal election and was replaced by a Conservative government that had no interest in the Accord. …

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