Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to speak today about the relationship our country has with our first nations peoples.
As a teacher for over 34 years, for 32 of those years, I proudly displayed a commemorative plaque from the Treaty Six Centennial celebrations that I attended at the Saddle Lake Reserve with Peter Lougheed, Bob Clark, the leader of the opposition, and Grant Notley. It was a very poignant opportunity for me to get a chance to see what was important to indigenous people. Engraved on the plaque are the words “For as long as the Sun shines, the Rivers flow and the Grass grows”, a reminder that is still proudly displayed in my office in Ottawa.
Additionally, I was proud to sit at the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee when we were in government and to pursue initiatives like matrimonial property rights and transparency legislation that was asked for by our first nations groups. These initiatives did not always sit well with some of the band leaders, but it did resonate with members.
When our government sought to improve the first nations education system, which would have included some of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, I asked to once again sit at this committee. Sadly, that initiative, spearheaded by former grand chief Shawn Atleo, in conjunction with Prime Minister Harper, was shut down before it could take off. As a former teacher, I was truly disappointed.
From my experience as a teacher, I have seen the inequity, the gaps in learning and the unacceptable dropout rates. I shared the frustration that existed with our first nation parents who wanted more for their children. For, as Ts'im-shian author, Calvin Helin, had alluded to in his book, Dances with Dependency, the cycle of dependency was only broken when the bonds of colonialism were cut. He argued that the ancestors would not have accepted their children to live without hope and purpose, that they would have wanted their children to know of their culture and their heritage and that the ancestors would expect them to look after their community and ensure they lived proudly.
This is why I proudly stand in solidarity with every elected band council on the Coastal GasLink route and with every band council that chooses this land's natural wealth as its path forward for its people. The band councils understand that using Canadian oil and gas is not only more economically sensible for their membership, but also a humanitarian and environmentally friendly solution for the globe. This is also why I stand with the majority of the hereditary chiefs and the vast majority of the Wet'suwet'en people and why I condemn the radical activists that use issues like this to undermine opportunities for all Canadians.
Now we are faced with an interesting challenge, given the political climate in our country right now. Some people in Ottawa have a narrow focus on what it means to be good stewards of the environment. They think that the sum of a society's commitment to the environment is the amount of carbon they produce in Canada and what that source of carbon is. Very real and important conservation initiatives have been going on throughout Canada in the oil and gas sector that have simply been glossed over to fulfill their narrative.
Similarly, these activists' rationale for holding Canada's economy hostage is as varied as the foreign interests that fund them, whether it be investors in renewable energy or oil and gas interests that simply know they can buy up our resources cheaply in the future, reaping the benefits when the rest of the world's energy dries up. Believe me, none of this is in our nation's best interest.
Where are we now? For the past 15 days, the country has been held hostage and the government has done nothing. Our economy, our people and our security as Canadians are being held up by a protest movement that is disrespectful to the majority of our indigenous peoples' desire to give their children and grandchildren the opportunities they never had, and the Liberal government has done nothing.
The protests have temporarily stopped VIA Rail passenger trains as well as CN trains, cutting off routes between Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Kingston, and the Liberal government has done nothing.
A variety of shipments, whether it be food, construction materials, lumber, aluminum, coal, propane, things that people need to survive, have been affected by the rail blockades and the Liberal government, once again, has done nothing.
CN rail announced the laying off of 450 workers in its operation in eastern Canada as a result of the blockades. What has the Liberal government done? Nothing. The government's inaction has led to a national crisis in Canada and it still will not act.
Canada's retailers and manufacturers are braced for shutdowns and face dwindling supplies as blockades at ports and on rail lines bring much of the country's rail freight network to a halt. CN rail's coast to coast system is at risk of shutting down.
As reported by CBC this morning, some of the members of the Wet'suwet'en people want the protesters to stop. Currently, the protests are not helping their communities, which they say already have fractured governance. These protests have amplified the conflict in the community and distracted Wet'suwet'en people from resolving their differences.
As I said before, the vast majority of these people support the Coastal GasLink project. Every elected band council on the Coastal GasLink route supports the project. Even the majority of hereditary chiefs support this project. The vast majority of first nations community members support the project because it will create jobs, opportunities, investments in communities and in the end, it will help reduce global greenhouse emissions.
Democracy and the rule of law are fundamental pillars of our country and it is time they are enforced. Our democratic values ensure that every person has the right to freedom of speech and freedom to protest, but people do not have the right to harm the security and livelihood of other Canadians.
The Prime Minister needs to denounce the illegal actions of the radical activists and formulate an action plan that will put an end to the blockages, ensure that the support for this project expressed by the vast majority of the Wet'suwet'en people is upheld and get our economy back on track. If he does not, the Liberal government will be setting a dangerous precedent that the civil unrest of a few can have a devastating impact on the lives of countless Canadians and that the government is not willing to enforce the law to protect Canadians.
Additionally, counter-protesters have started rising up to voice their dissatisfaction with the current situation. With these heightened tensions, leaving things as they are now is irresponsible.
The impact is also being felt beyond Canada's borders and is harming the country's reputation as a stable and viable supply chain partner.
These groups are emboldened and will continue to create havoc as the inaction tells all activists they can have a devastating impact on the lives of countless Canadians and the government is not willing to enforce the law to protect those Canadians.
As was evident in the Vice-Admiral Mark Norman case, the shameful treatment of the former attorney general, ethics violations and so many other transgressions, the government's opinion of right and wrong is truly suspect.
I urge the government to work night and day to resolve this issue, because to give opportunities for indigenous people to share in our world-class resource development is the right thing. Now is the time to act.