Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand to speak in this emergency debate. I would like to thank the member for Foothills for sharing his time with me.
I want to acknowledge the comments of the Prime Minister earlier today, and certainly acknowledge comments or other remarks from individuals in this place, looking to try to find solutions to this important question and consideration. I agree that good faith, partnership and a non-partisan approach have to take place when it comes to indigenous issues and pursuing true reconciliation.
I think about two basic questions that need to be asked. First, why are we in this situation? Second, what should be done?
Why are we in this situation? Why are we seeing blockades and protests and economic disruption?
The answer is pretty straightforward. It is because Canada, through successive governments, including the current government, has not done the basic work of resetting the foundations for relations with indigenous peoples, despite the rhetoric. We all know what needs to be done. We have known for decades, but we are here, yet again, in a moment of crisis, because this hard work has been punted.
The history of Canada saw indigenous peoples divided into smaller administrative groupings, with systems of government imposed upon them. For Indians, this was through the Indian Act and the creation of the band councils system.
The work of decolonization, of reconciliation, requires supporting nations to rebuild, to come back together and revitalize their own systems of government, to self-determine. Until they do, we will never know who truly speaks for the nations, irrespective of the good work and good intentions of the hundreds of Indian Act chiefs and councils and traditional leaders, who, in many cases, are one and the same.
However, we have not done this work. We have maintained the same legislation and policies for decades that keeps first nations under colonial statute, keeps nations divided, renders negotiations long and nearly impossible and does not support first nations nearly enough in doing the rebuilding work they must inevitably do. There are lots of reasons for this: the historical denial of rights to self-government and the denial to one's land and, so too, paternalism. The result of the perpetual inaction are situations like we see in Wet'suwet'en territory.
The Prime Minister did say today that these problems had roots in a long history. That is true. However, let us be honest, and with respect, the Prime Minister has to learn to take responsibility. Canadians over many years have come to learn our true history and the need for fundamental change. He has been speaking for five years about this most important relationship. He stood in the House of Commons over two years ago and pledged to make transformative, legislative and policy reforms, reforms that would be directly relevant to the situation in Wet'suwet'en territory today, that would have supported the internal governance work of the nation, shifted the consultation processes that took place and provided a framework for better relations.
What have we have seen as a result of this speech, and its transformative words? Honestly, almost nothing. The promise of legislation has not come. I know it is hard, but we cannot keep punting the hard work because of political expediency. If we do, we will have another situation like we have today in five years from now or quite likely sooner.
Therefore, here we are. What should be done? In the spirit of good faith and in the spirit of working together, may I be so bold as to offer four suggestions?
One, governments have to lead. They need to lead. Weeks have passed. If the Prime Minister wants to have dialogue to resolve matters peacefully, de-escalate the situation and show real leadership, in my view he should have gotten on a plane, flown to British Columbia, picked the premier up on his way up to Wet'suwet'en territory and met with the leadership of the Wet'suwet'en and some of the broader indigenous leaders in British Columbia.
The Prime Minister could still do this, having regard for and respect for the wishes and preconditions perhaps of the Wet'suwet'en leaders and recognizing some of the challenges that exist in their community. Honestly, there is a practice of leaders not wanting, in my opinion, to be in meetings where the outcomes and structures are not basically predetermined. We have had enough of that. One cannot script dealing with real issues and challenges. Let us just deal with them.
Two, the government should act now on making the fundamental changes that are long overdue. Long ago the government should have tabled comprehensive legislation that implements the minimum standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and upholds the recognition and implementation of indigenous rights, a recognition and implementation of rights framework. Such legislation would include supports, without interfering, for indigenous nations to rebuild their governments. It also would include pathways for moving out beyond the Indian Act. Indian Act chiefs have an important role to play in this process. Once truly self-governing, we will know with certainty who speaks for the indigenous title and rights holders. This is important not only for indigenous peoples to have faith in the legitimacy of their own democratic institutions but ultimately the people will choose and vote on their system of good governance. It is now also important for all Canadians to know.
I will be frank. The government uses language like “co-development” and the need to do it “in partnership” with indigenous peoples a lot, but a lot of the time it uses that language simply as an excuse to delay or justify inaction. For decades, at least since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 25 years ago, we have known the foundational legislative change that is needed. UNDRIP is a decade old. The government is five years old and it has been two years since the Prime Minister announced legislation would be tabled within 10 months. Enough is enough. The time for action is now. No more half measures, no more lofty rhetoric, no more setting up interminable negotiations that get nowhere very slowly over years and years.
Three, I believe the government should consider a cooling-off period when construction activity does not take place. That would allow everyone to step back and assess where things are, clear the space for dialogue and de-escalate current tensions. Whether this period is for one month or for a few months, it can be of benefit to all.
In this time, dialogue between the Wet'suwet'en and the government can take place. As well, the Wet'suwet'en, in my respectful view, need to take responsibility in such a period of time to have, in a very inclusive manner, the internal dialogue needed to bring clarity about how they will approach the future of this project collectively. Also, such a period of time may allow for explorations, as there have been in the past, of alternative routing for small portions of the line that can address some concerns, including, if necessary, government roles in accommodating the costs of such changes, should they be adopted with broad support.
Four, as a proud indigenous person in this country, I know that indigenous governments also need to lead. The main request I have heard, including meetings with the Prime Minister and premier, is that the RCMP leave the area where it conducted enforcement activity. My understanding as of today is that the company and the Wet'suwet'en are both in the area and things remain currently peaceful. If the RCMP decides it is appropriate to leave, perhaps as part of a cooling-off period, then I would expect indigenous governments, including the Wet'suwet'en leadership, to take action, to look at reconciliation and to look at how they can move forward collectively.
I want to make one last observation about reconciliation and the things that we have heard about reconciliation being dead.
Reconciliation in its true meaning always involves a reckoning. With our past, we are taking responsibility with changing course in real ways, with making the hard choices for our future. These are the choices that every parliamentarian in this place representing their constituents has to make for the benefit of all Canadians. This is our opportunity to finally finish the unfinished business of Confederation and enable indigenous peoples to be self-determining, embrace the minimum standards of the United Nations declaration and finally ensure that indigenous peoples have their rightful place in this amazing country.