Kelowna Accord

The Kelowna Accord, announced in November 2005, was the result of an 18-month consultative process that involved the federal government, provincial and territorial governments, and five national Aboriginal organizations. In order to “close the gap” between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal standard of living in Canada, the Accord was a 10-year plan, including a $5 billion commitment over five years, aimed at significantly improving health, education, housing and infrastructure, economic opportunities, accountability, and relationships between Aboriginal communities and the federal government.

Meetings and Participants

The Kelowna Accord took its name from Kelowna, BC, where a meeting of First Ministers (the prime minister and premiers)  took place on 24–25 November 2005. (The formal title of the accord is “First Ministers and National Aboriginal Leaders: Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap.”) However, the goals and commitments outlined in the accord were established over an 18-month period, beginning with the Canada-Aboriginal Peoples Roundtable in April 2004, through the policy retreat of May 2005 and numerous smaller meetings,  and ending with the First Ministers’ Meeting of November 2005. Overall, about 1,000 people were invited to participate in the process, with representatives from the federal government, provincial and territorial governments, and five national Aboriginal organizations — the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami(ITK), the Métis National Council (MNC), the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP), and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) (see Aboriginal Women’s Issues).

Goals and Targets

The goal of the these meetings was to “close the gap” between the standard of living for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians by 2016. Instead of the unilateral actions taken by the federal government in the past, the 2004–2005 negotiations stressed the involvement of all parties (particularly Aboriginal organizations) in the development and implementation of policies, services, and programs.

The motivation for these meetings was the glaring gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians in terms of health, education, housing, and economic opportunity. At the time of the negotiations (2004–2005), infant mortality in Aboriginal communities was almost 20% higher than in the general Canadian population. Moreover, Aboriginal people were three times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes, and suicide rates were 3 to 11 times higher than in the non-Aboriginal population. Thus, the stated goals of the Kelowna Accord included reducing infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity, and diabetes by 20% in five years (and by 50% in ten years), with the federal government allocating over $1.3 billion for health services. The data was also sobering in terms of education. In 2001, around 44% of Aboriginal people (aged 20–24 years) had not graduated from high school, compared to 19% for non-Aboriginal Canadians. One of the Kelowna Accord’s targets was therefore to raise the high school graduation rate to the average Canadian rate by 2016, with around $1.8 billion of federal funds committed to this end. As unemployment was significantly higher in the Aboriginal compared to the non-Aboriginal population, the accord dedicated $200 million to developing economic opportunities. Another $1.6 billion was earmarked for housing and infrastructure, and $170 million was allocated for “relationships and accountability,” supporting Aboriginal organizations in developing accountability practices and working with governments, particularly on land claim and self-government policies. The Kelowna Accord stressed the importance of a collaborative approach to these issues, and committed the federal government to future meetings with regional and national Aboriginal organizations.

Challenges and Implementation

The Kelowna Accord faced a number of significant challenges, not least of which was the dissolution of Parliament on 29 November 2005, just four days after the First Ministers’ Meeting in Kelowna. As a result, Paul Martin’s Liberal government — which had both initiated and endorsed the Kelowna Accord — was replaced by a Conservative government under Stephen Harper. As the previous Parliament had not approved any funding, it was left to the new Conservative government to implement the accord. While the Conservatives agreed with the overall goals of the accord, their 2006 budget allocated less funding than what had been outlined in the Kelowna agreement. The Kelowna Accord would have dedicated $600 million in 2006 alone to improve health, education, and housing, but the Conservative budget allocated $150 million in 2006 and $300 million in 2007 to similar projects. In response, Paul Martin introduced Bill C-292, An Act to Implement the Kelowna Accord, which was supported by the opposition parties. The Kelowna Accord Implementation Act became law in 2008, and required the Minister of Indian (now Aboriginal) Affairs and Northern Development to submit annual progress reports for a five-year period (see the government’s final report linked below). While these reports supported the Conservative government’s claim that some progress had been made, many critics — including Martin, the Assembly of First Nations, and Idle No More — argued that too little was being done to address the problems identified in the Kelowna Accord, and that the government had failed  to consult Aboriginal organizations in the development of policies, programs and services.