“Because it is 2016” has been one of the most enduring quotes from our new Prime Minister since he took office. He used it to explain his rationale for the gender balanced make-up of his federal cabinet. The same words and sentiment need to be applied to Canada’s adoption and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
In early September, along with the Ktunaxa Nation, I had the honour of hosting my colleague Romeo Saganash here in the Kootenays. Romeo, the first Aboriginal MP elected to Parliament from Quebec, has been a tireless advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples across Canada. He spent 23 years with the United Nations creating and negotiating the UN declaration. For the second time in his career as MP, Romeo tabled legislation to ensure that Canadian laws honour the UNDRIP.
The Prime Minister has said that implementing the UNDRIP is a top priority for his government. He has also stated that it is time for renewed nation-to-nation relationships based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership with indigenous peoples. It is time.
We know that actions speak louder than words. To date we have seen no movement from the Liberals to implement the declaration, but we have seen worrisome actions that appear to fly in the face of building new, respectful relationships with Canada’s Indigenous people.
Here in BC, we just saw the Liberal Government issue permits for the controversial Site-C Dam project and approval for a new Liquid Natural Gas pipeline, albeit with conditions. This was done despite the concerns and legal challenges raised by First Nations about cultural, environmental and economic consequences. We also watched as the Government committed to supporting Indigenous youth yet delivered $800 million less than what they promised for First Nations education.
During my travels across Kootenay-Columbia I hear a range of priorities and differences of opinions. However there are some values that are universal, including the importance of building relationships and honouring commitments. These values guide me as I work for you to hold our new government and Prime Minister to account. After all, reconciliation will take more than nice words, and it is 2016.