Madam Speaker, we face a national crisis and we need strong leadership to address it. We have a natural gas pipeline project that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by displacing coal with cleaner natural gas. It will create jobs and opportunity, and it has the support of all elected indigenous leaders in the area and a majority of the local hereditary chiefs.
A small minority of hereditary chiefs oppose the designated route for this project, and so radical activists, many of whom are not indigenous, are using this issue as an excuse to shut down critical infrastructure and paralyze our national economy. These activists are operating openly under the banner Shut Down Canada, and they are succeeding to some extent. This is our winter of discontent.
These illegal blockades have forced massive job losses already and risk creating shortages of vital commodities in certain regions. There has also been tampering with rail lines, putting many people at risk. How bizarre that activists who claim to care about the environment are shutting down rail transport.
As the government fails to act, escalation continues. Escalation is the result of the messages that the government is sending that this kind of lawlessness is permissible. We have some members of this House who are explicitly celebrating these violent, illegal and dangerous protests. The longer this goes on, the more likely that we will see a repeat of these illegal blockades every time anyone tries to build anything.
We need a strong response from the government. We need the government to give policy direction to enforce the law. The government says it cannot direct the police force. Certainly it cannot direct operational aspects of its response, but it is the responsibility of an elected government in a democracy to give broad policy direction to our police. We accept, in many cases, that this kind of policy direction is right and necessary already.
In fact, the government is saying explicitly in this House that the police should not enforce the law. As such, the government is already giving policy direction. From my perspective, it is the wrong policy direction, but either way, I do not think here there is any serious dispute of the idea that civilian authority giving policy direction to police is legitimate. Indeed it is already happening. Civilian oversight of police is part of how democracy works.
Also in a democracy, the principle that justifies the use of force by police is the idea that police are there to protect society and law-abiding citizens, people who want to work and take the train to buy the things they need. The police have a moral obligation to protect law-abiding citizens by enforcing the law. There is a reasonable margin of discretion in enforcement, but if the police fail to enforce the law on a grand scale in a way that is injurious to the rights of law-abiding citizens, then they bring the law into disrepute and reintroduce a state of nature in which people feel they have no choice but to take the law into their own hands.
Conservatives' contention is that it is the obligation of the government and the police to ensure that the law is enforced. A failure to enforce the law leads to escalation as more and more people feel they do not have to respect the law. It then leads to a response from citizens and further chaos with devastating social and economic implications.
This present escalation is a national crisis, and it requires real leadership. The Prime Minister's response to this crisis has been to emphasize dialogue in isolation. He talks about the need to understand the experience of people with different perspectives. I will make two specific points about dialogue. The first is about the right time and place for dialogue and the second is about the question of with whom the government should be undertaking dialogue.
First, when is the right time and place for dialogue? It is critically important for all of us to seek to understand the experience and perspectives of different people. This is something I personally take very seriously. Over the Christmas break, I read Love & Courage, the NDP leader's book, which is by the way very good and very worth reading. I also read Common Ground, by Jonathan Kay. I read them both because I decided that it was important for me to understand the ideas and experience that influence the leaders of other parties.
In addition to reading and listening, after the appropriate period of proportionate deliberation, leaders must also have the capacity to take decisions in the public interest. There is a time for talk and there is a time for action. We must dialogue with people with whom we disagree, but we must also insist that we do not stand in the middle of railroad tracks in the process.
If a violent assailant came into my home to attack my family, I might be very curious to know his ideological motivation, whether he is motivated by some particular kind of violent extremism or reacting to violence he has experienced in his own life or something else. These would be interesting and perhaps important questions, but my first response to the violent assailant would obviously be to protect myself and my family.
When our vital national infrastructure is being violently blocked in violation of the rule of law and when rail tampering is not only endangering the economy but people's lives, then we must act to end the violence. We must dialogue, yes, but from a strong position of commitment to law and order. Dialogue and enforcement can happen concurrently on separate tracks, and not on train tracks.
Of greater importance is the question about with whom we should be dialoguing. There are large and complex issues involved in indigenous reconciliation, but these protests and the debate today are about a very specific issue: the development of the Coastal GasLink project.
All of the band councils impacted, and a majority of the hereditary chiefs, support the project. All of us in the House want to have a respectful, collaborative, serious and functioning nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous peoples. In order for one nation to have a functioning relationship with another nation, each nation's representatives must know who the representatives of the other nation are and be able to talk to them.
When Canada and the U.S. negotiate on trade issues, for example, we need to know who speaks for the American people so that we can talk to them and negotiate with them. Of course, we recognize that a nation's decision-making structure can be complex, but to work together two nations need a process through which the right people can talk to each other about the right things.
In the case of our relationship with a nation like the United Kingdom, we understand that there is an elected leadership in the British House of Commons and a hereditary structure in the royal family.
Although we recognize the important role in the British constitution and in our own Constitution for this form of hereditary leadership, we still understand that any nation-to-nation dialogue involves the pursuit of agreement with the elected representatives of the British people. If Canada and the U.K. were to negotiate a free trade deal through their elected governments and Houses of Parliament, and a member of the Royal Family decided that he or she did not like it, we would say that it is not necessarily for that person but rather for the elected representatives to speak on behalf of the nation.
Even if the present relationship of the Crown and Parliament was imposed through a Dutch colonial intervention in British affairs in 1688, it is still the law as it is.
This is what is required for a functioning nation-to-nation relationship. If we are to have a functioning nation-to-nation relationship with indigenous nations in Canada, then we must know who speaks for particular indigenous nations and who speaks for the Canadian government so that representatives for each side can dialogue and come to agreement. If we do not seek to identify who our dialogue partners are going to be, then we can never move forward together on anything.
I believe that while dialogue can happen between any groups of people, negotiation and a realization of agreements on behalf of a people are the responsibility of the elected representatives of that people. The idea that the elected representatives of a people speak for the people is not rooted in a particular cultural or intellectual tradition. Rather, it has come to be recognized as part of the body of universal human rights.
Article 21, subsection 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:
The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Similar UN declarations recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions. Indeed, it is the right of indigenous peoples to maintain, develop or change their own models of government, but that is a right vested in the peoples of indigenous nations, not in their hereditary leaders.
I believe in the rights of indigenous peoples and all peoples to democratically elect their own leaders. It must be the decisions of elected indigenous leaders that carry the day.
There could certainly be a role for hereditary chiefs in a democratic system, just as our system has a role for hereditary leadership in the form of the Canadian Crown. However, it is the fundamental human right of people to choose to develop if they wish. Our dialogue about the development plans of particular nations needs to be with the elected representatives of those particular nations.
Members have rightly spoken about the horrific violations of fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples in the past, but those violations do not justify the violations today of the rights of indigenous people to democratic self-determination. Those who think that they can overrule the democratically expressed wishes of this indigenous nation are just as colonialist in their thinking as the colonizers of the past.
We cannot negotiate with people who do not speak for these communities about the future of these communities. We must dialogue with the right people. Solidarity with people who are vulnerable is important. Being in solidarity with someone, though, does not mean that we claim to speak for them. I have not spoken about whether this project should go ahead, simply that the will of the elected leadership must prevail.
One thing that I have heard often from other members that is quite offensive is the suggestion that indigenous people who support development are somehow only doing it because of the money.
That is ridiculous. Legislators of all backgrounds and at all levels generally support economic development in their communities because they want a bright and more prosperous future for their children and grandchildren. These are reasonable decisions for elected indigenous leaders to make in view of the common good for the communities that they are elected to govern.
It is time that we clear the blockades and let the Wet’suwet’en people make their own choice.