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What the federal party leaders say about reconciliation


On Thursday night, Canada’s major federal party leaders took part in a televised English-language debate during which one of the main themes was reconciliation.

In the Northwest Territories, the Liberal Party and New Democrats are fielding Indigenous candidates in Michael McLeod and Kelvin Kotchilea respectively. The Green Party candidate is Roland Laufer, while Jane Groenewegen is running as an independent. Conservative candidate Lea Mollison has never visited the territory.

The federal leaders were asked a series of questions related to reconciliation in a 25-minute segment. (Watch the debate in full here.)

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On this page, you can find transcripts of their answers.

Question:
In Ojibwe culture, trust and respect is key to any relationship. How can I trust and respect the federal government after 150-plus years of lies and abuse to my people and, as prime minister, what will you do to rebuild the trust between First Nations and the federal government?

Justin Trudeau, Liberal Party
You are absolutely right. Over the past 150 years, Canada has failed in its relationship with Indigenous peoples, people who we should be working with in shared stewardship of the land, working with in partnership as we draw from the bounty and the beauty of this land to build a better future for all. That is why, over the past six years, we have stepped up on the path of reconciliation. We have ended boil-water advisories in 109 different communities. We have made sure that tens of thousands of young people get to go to school in better classrooms. We continue to move forward on fighting for the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and ensuring a true partnership as we move forward in respect.

Yves-François Blanchet, Bloc Québécois
Your question is quite moving. I would say that no one is entitled to tell any nation what to do or what to think, and that every nation has to be recognized as such – either it is a nation of 300 people, like there is in Quebec, or an eight-million-people nation like Quebec is. It calls for a relationship between equals. It calls for a relationship in which nobody tells the other party that they are stronger, bigger, richer, and therefore you will do as you are told, even if we say it politely. And first, you provide clean water to everybody.

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Annamie Paul, Green Party
Thank you so much for the question and I understand the anguish in it as well because justice delayed is justice denied. And coming from a diaspora myself where we have been robbed of our culture, of our languages, of our history – I have no idea where my ancestors were born or where they’re buried – I completely understand how important this is and how frustrating it is not to have seen the action. I am tired of being up on these stages without Indigenous leadership here to speak for itself. Jodie Wilson-Raybould, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, I’m thinking of you right now. And when Mumilaaq, Ms Qaqqaq, said that without action Parliament would be hollow, she was right. So Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, nation-to-nation engagement. That is my commitment.

Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party
Thank you for the question, and the way you phrased it is so important. Reconciliation is about trust and respect – and restoring it after a century and a half of a federal government failing. That’s why, as opposition leader, my first question when I rose in the House of Commons was on a call to action on reconciliation with respect to Indigenous health. We need to build partnerships, we need to restore trust. And that trust is eroded when you make commitments on safe drinking water on-reserve, when you make commitments on the calls to action in the truth and reconciliation report and have no plan to fulfil them. So I want to build partnerships and have Indigenous leaders have governance over the federal government finally delivering on our commitment to Indigenous peoples.

Jagmeet Singh, New Democratic Party
Thank you for your question. How to restore trust? How do you restore trust when Indigenous communities suffered injustice and it continues in an unbroken line to this very day? How do you restore trust when you’ve got a prime minister that takes a knee one day and then takes Indigenous kids to court the next? And how do you restore trust in a country as wealthy as ours, a G7 nation, in the 21st century, that still does not provide clean drinking water to every single Indigenous nation? It starts by actually walking the path of reconciliation, not with the empty words but real action, clean water, nation-to-nation, and respect.

Question:
Mr Blanchet and Mr O’Toole, it is your turn to debate now. You’ve promised more money to search for unmarked graves, but so much more needs to be done to achieve meaningful reconciliation. Mr Blanchet, you begin. Tell me, how are you better positioned than Mr O’Toole to restore justice?

Yves-François Blanchet
I am not better positioned than Mr O’Toole, because I believe that this is a relationship between nations and he represents a nation. I feel I represent another one and we are discussing with a lot of other nations, but I will remind everybody that, on the last day of the last session, we had a motion adopted unanimously by the Parliament, and this motion was precisely saying what we have been told to carry by the First Nation leaders, and we adopted it. This might be the way to do it. Many times, the Bloc Quebecois said, even if you don’t agree with everything, that we would share our seats and our voices in the Parliament with the First Nations in order to have them being heard by the whole country.

Erin O’Toole
After the tragic finding of graves in Kamloops, Cowessess, and other former residential school sites, we offered to work in a bipartisan fashion on calls to action 71 to 76 – those are related to former residential school sites – and we need to act faster. I know Mr Trudeau cares a great deal about reconciliation, I know we all do. But this is an issue where we have to act. We can no longer say that we recognize the calls to action. We need a plan to achieve them, and what I’m proposing is a plan that builds partnerships, that builds governance, that has Indigenous leaders – incredible ones like Jodie Wilson-Raybould – to allow us to actually hold ourselves to account. All parties, all future governments. This is the biggest scar in the history of Canada and we have to tackle it not just with good intentions, but with a good plan to deliver for all Indigenous people.

Yves-François Blanchet
I must suggest, the Prime Minister has nominated a governor general who speaks Inuktitut, which is great, but does not speak French. Still, he does not agree with the idea of acknowledging and recognizing First Nation languages as official languages in his country.

Question:
Ms Paul, Mr Singh, Mr Trudeau, you’re up. Tell me, what is your plan to end the ongoing disproportionate violence against Indigenous women and girls?

Annamie Paul
The first thing is to make space for Indigenous leadership because, you know, we have done all these things and made all these promises – we know what needs to be done, the recommendations are there in the calls for justice and the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls report – and yet we still don’t have the action. And so as I said before, it should be Jody up here answering that question, it should be Mumilaaq Qaqqaq up here answering that question. We need to make the space for Indigenous leadership to guide this process and, above all, we need to make this a priority, all that is left now is political will.

Justin Trudeau
But that is exactly what we have been doing, Ms Paul. When we called the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls after years of governments avoiding doing that, we ensured that we brought the truth forward. And then we worked with Indigenous leaders’ groups, Indigenous women’s groups, to co-develop the action plan that we are now fully funding so we can get justice for the victims, healing for the families, and put an end to this ongoing national tragedy. It will take a lot of work by all of us but we are walking this road in partnership, because we know it needs to be done and there is much more to do.

Jagmeet Singh
But Mr Trudeau, sadly – and I don’t take any pleasure in this – the calls for justice are out there and you haven’t acted on them. And I meant it when I said you can’t take a knee one day, if you’re going to take Indigenous kids to court the next, that’s not leadership, that’s not going to make things better.

Justin Trudeau
Mr Singh, you love that line about taking Indigenous kids to court. It’s actually not true. We have committed to compensate those kids–

Jagmeet Singh
How can you say that? You can’t say that. You can’t say you’re not taking them to court when you’re taking them to court. There are kids out there being fought by you in court.

Moderator
I would actually remind you the question is about violence against Indigenous women and girls. Let me recentre you on that.

Jagmeet Singh
I appreciate that because he can’t continue to say that.

Annamie Paul
I said this last night in the French debate. This is why we need more diversity in politics. This is why we need people who are most directly impacted by issues to be able to speak for themselves, because we are drifting off into things. We have only dedicated two minutes to talking about how we are going to bring true justice to Indigenous women in this country. If we could stick to the topic.

Justin Trudeau
On this topic – and it was brought up in the earlier one, and we talked about Indigenous women – I want to talk about those kids buried in unmarked graves across the country. Because it was a tragedy for all Canadians, one long known by Indigenous peoples, but when I went to Cowessess to speak with Chief Cadmus Delorme we not only grieved those kids, we signed an agreement – a landmark agreement – to keep kids, at risk in their communities… to take them out of the provincial system. That is how we move forward. It took years to sign that agreement, but we got it and we are empowering Indigenous communities–

Moderator
Mr Trudeau, we’re out of time. Mr Singh, I’m going to give you a very brief moment to respond.

Jagmeet Singh
We need to implement all the calls for justice. We need to listen to Indigenous women and girls, we need to make sure that they’re safe, and we have the steps they’ve laid out that we need to follow.

Question:
Mr Blanchet, numerous government reports – including in Quebec – have sounded the alarm that systemic racism exists, from Joyce Echaquan dying as she’s taunted by hospital staff to policing, the justice system. What will you do as Bloc leader to address systemic racism in your own province, in Quebec, and also elsewhere in Canada?

Yves-François Blanchet
First, never underestimate the weight, the sadness of those dramas. Second, I acknowledge, I recognized the existence of systemic racism in June 2020 And then what happened? It became a political tool against Quebec. It became a tool to say Quebec is this and that and racist and xenophobic and all of that. Instead of opening a discussion, trying to find solutions, consulting experts, discussing with the First Nations themselves, it became this white society against this other one white society. We built nothing, so the words became toxic.

Moderator
What are you going to do?

Yves-François Blanchet
I’m absolutely open to the idea of discussing all of that on a quiet stage without this aggressivity, being aggressive, as this debate has become.

Question:
Ms Paul, Canada has more children in government custody right now than at the height of residential schools. New child w legislation actually puts the onus on the First Nations communities to bring their kids back, cleaning up the mess that Canada has created, essentially. Those children are going to have to be brought back to all of those same problems, that still exist, that were the grounds for apprehension. What would you do in the House of Commons to make sure that poverty and trauma issues are addressed?

Annamie Paul
Thank you very much for that question and and absolutely we mentioned, not that long ago in one of our statements, that the residential school system had been replaced by children in care, and that this was just perpetuating the legacy of trauma. It really comes back to what I said before, which is that the Indigenous leadership is there, it is ready to guide all of these processes. We have all of the recommendations we need. What we are missing is political will, what we are missing is those who have been in power for a very long time making space for new voices and diverse voices. I actually had to pull my jaw up, which just dropped when I heard what Mr Blanchet said. I invited Mr Blanchet to get educated about systemic discrimination, I extend that invitation again, I would be happy to educate him.

Yves-François Blanchet
It’s nice to want to educate me.

Annamie Paul
This is my time, sir.

Yves-François Blanchet
A nice time to insult people.

Annamie Paul
That was not an insult, it was an invitation to educate yourself.

Yves-François Blanchet
Since I’m many minutes behind everybody else there should some distance in the debate. It’s your responsibility, not mine, but some things cannot be said.

Question:
Mr Trudeau, your Liberal government has turned Indian Affairs into two separate, massive bureaucracies that eat up large portions of funding that we’ll never see on-reserve, it doesn’t leave the bureaucracy. You’ve promised clean drinking water but, billions of dollars later, that’s not happened. Many still do not have clean drinking water. Canadians and Indigenous people are losing patience with the lack of results from all of this spending. Why would they believe you, in a third term, that they would get results and you’d be accountable for all that spending,

Justin Trudeau
One of the enemies of progressive politics is cynicism, is discounting the hard work that millions of people have been involved in over the past years. Yes, there’s always more to do. Progressives always know there’s more to do. But when we came into office, there were 105 long-term boil-water advisories. We lifted 109 of them and, for each of the ones that are remaining, we have a project lead, a project team, and an action plan – and we’re going to lift those all. There are tens of thousands of kids across this country, Indigenous kids, who have started the school year in new schools or refurbished schools. We have moved forward on settling more agreements and more land claims,and more partnerships than any other government over the years, we continue to work in partnership and respect, and invest more money in Indigenous communities than any previous government.

Question:
I don’t think anybody’s questioning the money spent, I think that they’re questioning the results for the money that’s spent. Mr Singh, federal forces including the RCMP and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have been used throughout Canada’s history to prevent First Nations from exercising their treaty rights to fish and to hunt and to defend land and water. This is happening right now on both coasts, including under the NDP party in British Columbia with regards to fishing and logging. As prime minister, what would you do to ensure Indigenous rights and title are finally respected in this country?

Jagmeet Singh
I really appreciate the question. First of all we need to respect Indigenous treaty land and rights. That’s a fundamental step towards walking the path of reconciliation in a real, meaningful way. But you mentioned the RCMP and I’ve got to talk about the really sad reality that there has been violence, heavy-handed violence against Indigenous communities, against peaceful protesters, and we’ve long called – I have long called – for reform of policing. When I was at the provincial level I fought against carding, I’ve continued to use every platform I have to say: We’ve got to stop the use of force, we’ve got to overview it, we’ve got to change the RCMP’s mandate, and that’s something we can do at the federal level. That’s something that Mr Trudeau said he would do and has yet to do, and it’s something I’m committed to making sure happens.

Question:
Mr O’Toole, you voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that would share decision-making power with Indigenous people over what happens on their land, and you also want to criminalize Indigenous dissent that’s expressed through blockades or protests. If you were prime minister, how could Canada build a respectful nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous people?

Erin O’Toole
I want to build those partnerships. And that’s why our only concern with the United Nations declaration was how free and prior informed consent was defined, so that didn’t stop partnerships from being formed. I’m really glad to say one of the early leaders behind the UN declaration, Chief Willie Littlechild, has agreed to serve as a special counsel to me on the implementation of that, to make sure that there are partnerships and opportunities. What I want to do as prime minister is build that type of nation-to-nation dialogue and partnership so that the next generation has intergenerational wealth and opportunity transfer, not trauma, and building that trust will be core to me. It’s why, as I said, my first question was on reconciliation. We have to make progress.

Question:
If there’s one thing that Canadians and Indigenous people can all agree upon, it is that this Indian Act system is not working for anybody. How would you dismantle this broken top-down system, and what would you replace it with that would ensure that Canada still is living up to its constitutional obligations to Indigenous people?

Justin Trudeau
First of all, we are looking forward to dismantling the Indian Act. It is a commitment of ours, but it is not something that Ottawa gets to decide and what replaces the Indian Act will vary from community to community as we live up to our obligations. And that’s why – over the years, as we’ve moved towards self-government – we have accompanied communities, some who want to start with health, some who want to start with education, some who want to start with economic development. Every community, every nation across this country gets to help define what its path is forward. We will be there to listen, to partner, to build a better future every step of the way,

Erin O’Toole
The way to go forward is to listen to leaders and Mr Trudeau ignored one that he had in his own cabinet, Jodie Wilson-Raybould. That was a huge lost opportunity. We’ve been speaking to people with how we can accelerate treaty resolution, there are some treaty negotiations that have been going on for decades. We need to solve it and we need to work with Indigenous leaders. There’s incredible indigenous leaders in nonprofits, in the private sector, in industry, in academia. We need to use that governance capacity to finalize treaties and build partnerships, because the best way forward is success for Indigenous peoples alongside their neighbours.

Jagmeet Singh
On this one point, I think absolutely the solution has to be Indigenous-led, and I think that’s the starting point. For a long time we’ve seen that there’s been a top-down approach. That has to change, there has to be Indigenous people at the table. But I want to talk about the impacts, just so we understand how severe this is, how the Indian Act is creating injustice and perpetuating injustice. I spoke to Bea, who’s a young woman, a young girl, and she told me in her own voice, she said: “I’m a 12 year old girl and I’m fighting for clean drinking water. How does that make any sense?” Those words haunt me to this day. I think about what 12-year-olds do and they certainly aren’t fighting for clean drinking water. That is a legacy, that is the impact of the Indian Act.

Justin Trudeau
I want to go back to what Mr O’Toole has been saying, because he’s very able at saying all the right things but there are countless examples of him actually not living up to his words. We’ve seen him on a number of times during this campaign, but on Indigenous issues specifically, he says we need to listen to Indigenous peoples. Well, he proposed that he would raise the flags that are at half-mast for the kids in unmarked graves in residential schools, and he didn’t talk to or listen to any Indigenous leaders when he made that decision, and that’s something that is important and symbolic, but wouldn’t cost a cent. How do we believe that he would be able to actually–

Moderator
I’m going to give Ms Paul and Mr Blanchet a chance to jump in, we haven’t heard from them yet. Time permitting, I’ll come back to you, Mr O’Toole.

Annamie Paul
And I really again want to–

Erin O’Toole
I asked Mr Trudeau to move immediately–

Moderator
No, hold on, hold on. Ms Paul.

Annamie Paul
I really just want to try to recentre our conversation on Indigenous peoples and what we are going to do to fulfil the many unfulfilled promises and commitments that have been made. And I would say, perhaps – to pick up on what has been said, you know – that it seems all too often that reconciliation is treated like a buffet. You can opt in for this, pick this, you know, pick this plate but not the other one. And that applies to what we’ve seen with Mr Trudeau and the Liberals. You can’t on the one hand say reconciliation and then go and not allow Miꞌkmaq fishers to be able to have a decent, moderate living for all of these years. You can’t call reconciliation and then take Indigenous peoples to court. But Mr Singh, you also can’t say reconciliation and then support the NDP government in putting pipelines through Indigenous territories, or support Line 5 after the Anishinabek made it very clear that they did not support that project.

Yves-François Blanchet
First Nations and Quebec have something in common. They are binded by a document they never signed. And any relationship between nations should be dealt with, with freely signed treaties or agreements or something. The Indian Act has to be replaced, one nation at a time if need be, by and with freely signed treaties and agreements. There’s no other way. And if I may come back a few seconds on something else, Quebec wants religion out of the state affairs because religion never protected equality for women, and never will.

Erin O’Toole
I am proud of this country and I think, if you love your country, you can dig deep to make it better. So as prime minister, on the National Day of Reconciliation on September 30, I will raise the flag with a commitment to move forward on calls to action. Mr Trudeau promises things, doesn’t deliver, and then when people protested him, he mocked them. That is not reconciliation. So you can be proud of your country as you strive for it to get better.

Jagmeet Singh
I think Mr Trudeau may care. I think he cares. But the reality is that he’s often done a lot of things for show and hasn’t backed those up with real action, and the harm is that Indigenous people continue to suffer, and that’s what I want to stop. I want to stop the suffering and lift up Indigenous people.

Justin Trudeau
Unfortunately, the cynicism that Mr Singh is showing on saying we did nothing is harming reconciliation and the path we’re moving forward. We have lots more to do, and we are doing it.

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