This federal election will be one of the most important in our country's history. It comes at a time when long-awaited fundamental change and reconciliation between ourselves and Canada is within our grasp. The past few months have seen the culmination of two historic agreements that, together, have the potential of healing the deep wounds that have hampered our ability to mature and grow as a nation. We believe this changed direction signals a new era in Canada's relationship with the first nations of this country.
We want this momentum to continue regardless of the election outcome. It would be disastrous if any political party reneged on the historic solution to the residential schools legacy and the economic, social and cultural commitments made at the first ministers meeting. To do so would betray good-faith negotiations and sacrifice our future growth and prosperity by partisan politics.
The long-awaited settlement for residential schools survivors provides for a base financial compensation for all those who attended such schools with recognition for the amount of time they spent there. Additional compensation and counselling were committed for those who suffered physical, sexual or mental abuse. A promised truth and reconciliation commission will provide the sorely needed education and understanding of this tragic chapter in our shared history.
The first ministers promised us $5-billion for housing, health and education, to be delivered over five years. This is part of the Assembly of First Nations' 10-year plan to close the gap in quality of life between first nations and the rest of the country. It builds on a joint commitment, years in the making, to deal with first nations rights and title in light of Canada's commitments in the treaties. The AFN's "getting results" strategy, combined with the diligence, drive and commitment of first nations leaders and citizens across the country, resulted in these historic breakthroughs. We believe these agreements transcend partisan politics. They represent a bargain between the first nations and Canada as a whole, including the governments of every province and territory.
The AFN is a non-partisan body that represents Canada's first nations. While we do not endorse any individual party, we would never recommend a party that opposed or is not prepared to honour these critically important commitments. Consequently, we will be seeking clear and unequivocal support from all the parties for both the residential schools settlement package and the Kelowna first ministers commitments. The well-being of our people must extend beyond partisan politics.
We only obtained the right to vote in federal elections in 1960. At that time, our influence was minimal. Today, because of our proportion of the population, we could determine the outcome in 63 ridings. Everyone knows this election will be close. Every seat will count. We will be looking for the parties to publicly address first nations and aboriginal issues.
Phil Fontaine is national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.