Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to support the Wet'suwet'en people. Over the past weeks, news organizations from coast to coast have mobilized to every blockade and every protest, vying for sound bites and clips to share on the morning news and on their social media. Who has been forgotten in all of this? It seems to me it is the people of Wet'suwet'en nation.
Politicians across Canada and in this House have taken it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the people. I do not want to even pretend to speak on behalf of these people, because I think that would be foolish for me to claim to do so. It would lack credibility and integrity. Let me be clear, however. We are at a very important point in our history, and I intend to be on the side of the Wet'suwet'en people tonight, who have the right to self-determination and to control their own destiny.
The elected leadership of all 20 first nations whose territory runs along the pathway of Coastal GasLink, eight hereditary chiefs and over 80% of the people are in favour of getting this pipeline built. I was the mayor of the city of Meadow Lake for eight years and I know just how difficult it is to get 80% support for a project. It is nearly impossible. That is why I appreciate the hard work that the elected chiefs have put in to negotiate an extremely successful deal with Coastal LNG on behalf of their people.
There is over $1 billion in commitments to indigenous workers and to indigenous-owned firms because of this project. These dollars could be used for important investments in these communities such as housing, mental health, education, recreation and many other things. However, it is not just about the dollars being invested in these communities; it is about the creation of well-payed, sustainable jobs.
I represent a riding that has a population that is over 70% indigenous. During the election campaign and in the months since, I have had many opportunities to talk to people about my vision for northern Saskatchewan, to talk to people about the opportunity to have well-paying, sustainable jobs. It is a very similar theme to what we talk about tonight when we consider this project.
The benefits I have spoken about over and over again are threefold. First, there is an obvious economic benefit that comes with having a good job and being able to take care of oneself and one's family. Second, there is an innate need in each of us to be fulfilled, to feel valued and to have a sense of self-worth. There is nothing greater than the feeling one experiences after coming home, having put in an honest day's work. Third, the most important benefit that I have been talking about over the last several months is the hope that comes from the opportunity of having a good job.
Youth suicide in northern remote communities is very real, and it is a heartbreaking crisis. I have spoken many times about how the suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan is due to a lack of hope. When young people can look up to those they respect and admire, such as their parents, their uncles, their brothers and sisters, or maybe their older cousins, and see them succeed by being part of the industry in northern Saskatchewan, they have hope. They have hope for a better future and they no longer have to consider suicide. I realize that a good job does not solve every problem, but it sure is a good start and it goes a long way.
The question becomes how we create these jobs. I have spoken consistently about creating partnerships between indigenous communities and private industry. These partnerships create opportunity for people in remote northern communities to fully participate in the economic well-being of Canada as a whole. This project is a perfect example of that model at work.
We simply cannot allow a minority of protestors to stand in the way of the will of the Wet'suwet'en nation. These protestors have taken extraordinary measures to hold Canada hostage, compromising the safety of our rail infrastructure, blocking and intimidating people attempting to go to work and in some cases physically assaulting elected members of a provincial legislature.
These blockades have had real effects on my constituents. I have heard from farmers in my riding that many are being told they will not be able to deliver the grain they have contracted for February and March. Canada's reputation as a stable supplier is at risk. Our farmers are risking losing global customers, and they will find other suppliers.
These are people's livelihoods we are talking about. It is how they feed their families. It is what heats their homes. These blockades have to end. If we allow a small minority to succeed in blocking this project, I am concerned that it will be impossible for future projects to ever see the light of day.
Canada's courts have been very clear. The standard for meeting the fiduciary duties for consultation and accommodation are very high. These thresholds have been met by the Coastal LNG project and they ought to be respected.
My colleague referenced Ellis Ross in her speech a few moments ago, and I want to do the same. Ellis Ross is the B.C. MLA for Skeena and a former councillor and subsequent chief councillor for the Haisla Nation. He served in that role for 14 years and had the following to say recently:
The heated debate over who holds authority over the territory of First Nations — be it hereditary chiefs or elected band leaders — may serve the interests of those seeking to disrupt construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, but it does absolutely nothing for the well-being of an average Aboriginal living on reserve.
He went on to further say:
Allowing outsiders to undermine and dismiss years of careful consideration and consultation with elected chiefs who want nothing more than to secure a brighter future for their membership, is quite unacceptable....
I am not naive enough to not realize there are members of the Wet'suwet'en nation who are not in favour of this pipeline. Of note, four of the 12 hereditary chiefs, as well as approximately 15% of the people, would fit in that category.
I will always support the rights of those not in favour to protest peacefully, but as with any major decision, indigenous or non-indigenous, total consensus is often unachievable. That is why authentic relationships must be developed so we can have difficult conversations when the need arises.
Let me share from my own personal experience and journey in this regard. As I said earlier, 70% of my riding is indigenous. We grew up going to school together, playing sports together, and in general, living shoulder to shoulder.
Later in life when I became mayor, I had the privilege of working with and developing strong relationships with four chiefs from Flying Dust First Nation who served with me when I was mayor. We shared the challenges of water supply, policing, development activities, recreation and many other matters. It is my sincere belief that we were able to navigate these challenges because we invested in positive and authentic relationships prior to the issues being put on the table.
I truly appreciate the effort the Minister of Indigenous Services has made recently to have dialogue, but unfortunately, the Prime Minister has left him in the unenviable position of having to deal with this in a reactive manner rather than in the proactive manner it deserved. It is clear that these attempts to have dialogue suddenly in the wake of a crisis are too little and far too late.
The government seems to be focused on blaming the Harper government for all of its failures, but the Liberals have had four and a half years and all we hear is virtue signalling and lip service.
In my riding, during the campaign I consistently heard the terms “empty promises” and “unfulfilled commitments” from my indigenous friends. That has been made abundantly clear over the past few weeks, with the choices the Prime Minister has made to prioritize a seat on the United Nations Security Council instead of dealing with the crisis here in Canada. That is not leadership, and right now leadership is what this country needs.
We are asking for a common sense approach to this crisis, respect the rule of law, open authentic dialogue on reconciliation and to not allow the minority to overrule the majority.
As a former mayor of Meadow Lake, I know how important these development projects are to indigenous communities. It is a real and tangible path to economic freedom, self-government and true reconciliation. That is why I am standing today in solidarity with the elected councillors, hereditary chiefs and the people of the first nation.
The Prime Minister said in the House today that patience may be in short supply. It seems that the commitment to reconciliation is also in short supply. The Prime Minister did say something I agree with, which is that we all have a stake in this, that we need to find a solution and we need to find it very soon. I would only add that we should have started looking for a solution sooner.
Today in the National Post, Derek Burney wrote, “A minority government should not mean that we have no government.” In the spirit of collaboration then, I encourage everyone to take a deep breath, refocus our efforts, shut out the radical minority and take earnest steps toward authentic reconciliation.