The 2020 Speech from the Throne was overwhelmed by the well-publicized protests that nearly shut down the British Columbia legislature.
For the most part the Speech was a recap of work that has been accomplished by our minority government through the Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA) between the BC Green and BC NDP Caucuses.
I’m happy to review the achievements of our collective work, because there have been quite a few. However, the 2020 Speech from the Throne lacked an inspiring vision for the space British Columbia is going to take in the 21st century.
Unfortunately, it appears the BC NDP are still invested in the 1950’s “British Columbia Dream.” Over the coming weeks the BC Green Caucus will be highlighting elements of our plan for a resilient, sustainable and prosperous modern British Columbia.
I spend a little time in this speech on those matters because at this moment I am deeply motivated to address the significant challenges our province faces with respect to Indigenous rights issues and meaningful action on climate change. Both of these factors were central features of the protests around the legislative precinct on opening day.
Thank you, Mr. Assistant Deputy Speaker, and congratulations. You’re looking very good in that seat down there. Thank you for this opportunity to stand and respond to the Speech from the Throne. Frankly, I found the speech to be underwhelming, though perhaps the content was simply overwhelmed by the inexplicable events that unfolded around the Legislature yesterday.
At a very high level, I appreciate the government’s decision to review the work we have accomplished together in this minority government. Over the past three years, this government has had some wonderful achievements. Many of them have been rightly outlined in this Speech from the Throne. One feat that is often overlooked is the survival of the minority government that many pundits were betting would face an early demise. We have proven that where there is a commitment to working through even the most intractable issues, when there is a commitment to building a foundation on good governance and when elected strive to create strong public policy, minority governments can and will be stable.
The B.C. Green caucus is proud to advance world-renowned climate economic policies for our province. We’re proud to have worked with the province and the government to increase accessibility to child care options, develop a comprehensive housing program and be the first jurisdiction anywhere to enact the declaration on the right of Indigenous peoples.
We know those policies would not be as strong, not as effective and not as evidence-based, or maybe not even happen at all, if it were not for the B.C. Greens’ presence here in the Legislature. Each one includes hard-fought negotiations that made them better. Each one represents long days, evenings and weekends from our dedicated legislative staff, a heroic team of six — Claire, Sarah, Evan, Macon, Kaylea and Judy — determined to match the entire public service with their expertise and professionalism. We are a small team with few MLAs, and we are determined to not give up. We are not quitters. We have much to be proud of.
And yet as I stand today to respond to the Speech from the Throne, my heart is heavy. On the front steps of this building over the last week, a fire was burning. I could smell the smoke in my office and hear the chanting through my window. As an Indigenous person working in this building, I’m reminded over and over of all of that Indigenous peoples have endured since this building was constructed to assert its dominance over this newly colonized land. I’m reminded of all that we continue to go through as colonization shifts and is reinvented.
The theme of the government’s Speech from the Throne this year is what we have done. What we have done — that is something that I wrestle with every day. Working in a minority government gives me a unique vantage point on what this government has done. I see the good, and I am grateful for our role. But I also see the challenging, the devastating and the enduring.
Progress is not a straight line. Often it is only through the rearview mirror that we appreciate how far we have come. The day-to-day building blocks of progress may not be enough on their own. But with persistence, they can create something monumental.
It’s why I can stand here today and can rightly celebrate building one of the world’s strongest climate economic policies and oppose each attempt to use it to greenwash the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.
It’s why I worked so hard to see the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act passed into law, even as I fundamentally and wholeheartedly disagree with some of the decisions the B.C. NDP have made that made its passage so critical in the first place. Nothing is gained by empty posturing.
We were elected to govern our province on behalf of all British Columbians. The B.C. Greens reject the idea that threatening the stability of government is a way to create progress. Although people have come to expect otherwise, most British Columbians want their representatives to work together. We can hold different perspectives while still trying to collaborate. It is a balancing act we navigate every day, because the B.C. Green caucus has a very different vision of where we should be going as a province.
We disagree with the NDP’s approach to double down on the expansion of the export-driven fossil fuel sector as the primary drivers of our economy. In contrast, the priority focus for the future prosperity of British Columbia in the B.C. Green caucus plan is on innovation and the use of technology across all of our sectors and industries.
We believe that CleanBC can and should be an economic driver that establishes B.C. as a model for the world of how a low-carbon economy can operate, not something that is used to help entrench and even expand the fossil fuel sector in our province. This is a fundamental disagreement that we continue to have with the B.C. NDP government. I’m going to expand on more of these areas when we look at the budget next week and throughout this session.
As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the throne speech was overwhelmed by the dramatic events that played out yesterday in the legislative precinct. So today I need to address what we’ve been seeing out in the Wet’suwet’en territory, in communities across our province and right here in the capital.
It is important that people understand that what we see across Canada and on the steps of our Legislature was neither inevitable nor unavoidable. Every member in this chamber, with the exception of the B.C. Greens and our independent colleague, voted to ignite the tragic situation that we face. They voted for it over and over and over and over and over again — 14 times.
Every time the B.C. Greens triggered a vote during the debate of Bill 10, the Income Tax Amendment Act last spring, a bill which detailed the lucrative financial handout government was offering LNG Canada in exchange for a positive final investment decision, they voted for it. The B.C. Green caucus carried hours of debate on our own, arguing against massively expanding the fossil fuel industry in the midst of a climate crisis; arguing against approving and endorsing the biggest point source of pollution in our province; arguing against subsidizing foreign multinational corporations — some state owned, like PetroChina — with a corporate welfare package worth billions of taxpayer dollars, British Columbians’ money; arguing against proceeding with a megaproject that was already having Indigenous people taken off their lands. But 83 members of this House voted to proceed.
I will not let them rewrite history to pretend that they are anything but responsible for the painful situation we are seeing playing out right now in our landscape, leveraging Indigenous people against each other, just as we’re all too familiar. With those votes, our colleagues in the B.C. NDP and B.C. Liberals chose to barrel ahead, knowing full well that there were existing long-standing and unresolved matters relating to rights and title in the area. They knew full well of the matters that needed to be reconciled at every point since 1997 through good-faith, government-to-government negotiations.
Honestly, what did you all expect? Did you really think that after decades of fighting for recognition, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs would just step aside and let you do whatever they wanted in the territory? As lawyer Gavin Smith recently wrote:
“The Wet’suwet’en are a classic example of how the Crown and the Canadian legal system have overseen a long-term and continuing failure to give effect to the promised recognition of Aboriginal title and Indigenous law.
After millions of dollars spent on some 13 years in court, with 318 days of presenting evidence at trial, the Wet’suwet’en, together with the Gitxsan, won a landmark victory in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw decision. The court ordered another trial due to the trial judge’s improper rejection of important Indigenous evidence but explicitly encouraged good-faith negotiation rather than further litigation.
More than two decades later it is undeniable that the provincial and federal governments have not done enough to advance such negotiations. The Crown, in fact, continued to make legal arguments to minimize and weaken the meaning of Aboriginal title, such as the arguments that were rejected in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2014 decision in Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia.
It is manifestly unfair to expect the Wet’suwet’en and Indigenous nations across the land to continue assembling overwhelming financial, organizational and emotional resources needed for marathon litigation before their laws and jurisdiction will be taken seriously, as required by the Canadian constitution.”
Great efforts are needed to address and reconcile Aboriginal rights and title with assertion of Crown sovereignty. The fact that there is such significant conflict over a resource project that the B.C. Liberals and B.C. NDP made clear they wanted to go ahead with at all costs raises significant questions for me about the extent to which they have been meaningfully attempting to achieve reconciliation at all. Every vote to prematurely proceed with this project backed the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs into a corner.
I recognize there are now Supreme Court injunctions and agree that that is not a trivial matter, but it is even just a slice of the bigger problem – a bigger picture that the judge acknowledged in the decision that some members of this place hang their hat on. The court was not positioned to make a ruling on the underlying root cause of the conflict, which is the failure to find a resolution about foundational rights and title and who needs to be making decisions about the land in the first place.
We cannot make our recognition of Indigenous self-determination and jurisdiction contingent on whether they support our project proposals or not. That is exactly what is happening with the two major pipelines currently trying to cut across our province. In the Wet’suwet’en case, the band council support for the pipeline is cited by politicians and proponents as justification for why the project should be permitted through their territory no matter what the Hereditary Chiefs say. But in Coldwater’s case, where the band council is opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline running through their drinking water aquifer, they are dismissed and bulldozed. Apparently, there, the opinion of the band council doesn’t mean a thing. But the Crowns can’t have it both ways. These narratives are blatantly inconsistent. It doesn’t seem to matter to this House, because forever, forever in this country, the burden — the bucket of water – has been carried by Indigenous people.
When the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs called me last month, I answered. When they invited me to their territory, I went. I went because I wanted to learn about their sophisticated governance structure, a system that stretches back thousands of years. I went because as an active member of this Legislature, I believe it is my duty to understand where people are coming from in these challenging situations. That approach to leadership is also why I met with the RCMP when I was in Smithers and why I flew to Prince George the very next week to attend the Natural Resources Forum.
We may be more familiar with the band council system, which was put in place by the Indian Act to govern Indians on Indian reserves, but that system does not govern all or even most Indigenous people in British Columbia. It certainly has not extinguished everything that came before it. These situations are complex and intertwined with historic and ongoing colonialism. Members of this House have the responsibility to understand that and the impacts of it.
Before the 1950s, it was illegal for Indigenous people to hire a lawyer to defend their rights. Now 70 years later, with many cases on the books, including a Supreme Court victory that stole more than a decade of my own father’s life, it appears Indigenous people are not much further ahead than when it was illegal to have representation in the courts. The members of the Crown continue to twist language, erode understanding and manipulate the outcomes or just sign interim agreements and leave Indigenous leaders, elected and hereditary, in an awful bureaucratic purgatory.
Let’s not deceive ourselves. Statements conjuring rule of law serve a very specific purpose. The unwillingness to publicly clarify the role of elected Indian Act band councils and traditional leadership under Indigenous law serves a very specific purpose. We must be honest about who wrote the laws, who they wrote them for and how we improve them going forward.
I ask: where is the militarized RCMP or police response to all of the women who have been raped and murdered? The missing and the murdered Indigenous women inquiry said the violence inflicted on Indigenous women is genocide. Where is their army? Ignoring these realities has not made the problems go away. Instead, it created the pressure cooker of frustration that we saw ignite on the front steps of this very institution.
We cannot use a narrow interpretation of the rule of law to shield us from the hard work of fair and just governing. We know full well that courts in our country have been recognizing Indigenous law as legitimate for decades.
Last weekend I decided to come down here and spend some time with the young people on these steps, our relatives from territories all across this place we now know as British Columbia. It was a sombre time for me. I carried with me the sweet, smoky scent of their fire for hours, a gentle reminder of the sacrifices our families have made, a reminder of the ongoing, decades-old peaceful posture our relatives have taken to point out the dishonour that continues to flow from the decisions of this institution.
While I was here, I was asked to speak to our relatives. I was very clear that I’m deeply troubled by the actions of the provincial government. Members of this House cannot wrap themselves in the glory of being the first jurisdiction to pass legislation formally enacting the declaration of the rights of Indigenous people into law and then seek to leave the work of reconciling governance simply to Indigenous communities and Indigenous people.
Yesterday we saw the frustration and angst of people and our young people in our society who have lost confidence in the government to make decisions that reflect the choices they would make for their future. It is important that we all reflect on what our right to peaceful assembly actually is. We must reflect on how my colleagues and I were treated yesterday. I have great difficulty characterizing much of what I experienced and what is captured on the front page of today’s Times Colonist as peaceful.
I’ve heard the reports of the experiences of others as well, and it’s important to name it. Something is not necessarily non-violent just because we scream it is so. Part of what was missing yesterday was the guidance of the elders, who taught me that you can use power to build support or you can use it to tear it down. What we need at this time is not tearing people apart but, rather, a force capable of bringing people together.
I need everyone who surrounded this building yesterday, I need all British Columbians to know that I take this job very seriously. It is my job, our job to show up. It’s our job to listen with a compassionate ear and love in our hearts. I must bring what I learned into this chamber and use it to change laws and effect change. That cannot be done from the front steps. It must be done in this chamber.
That is why for the next four months of this session of government, indeed, all members of this chamber will have the spotlight on us. Ministers will be asked difficult questions, and backbenchers will be challenged to do more. Our role has been characterized as being the balance of power. It’s a characterization that I have always had great discomfort with. Some have warned it is a badge of authority. It’s been entrenched by shallow threats.
I do not view our role as a few who hold a balance of power. Rather, I proudly hold my balance of responsibility. What is the balance that my colleagues hold?
It is in this context that I reflect on how we use the democratic tools that we have at our disposal to change laws and create better outcomes. Does CleanBC reduce emissions enough to make up for the fact that government is now using it to justify the expansion of the fossil fuel industry?
Does the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act establish a strong enough foundation for a more respectful, more functional relationship with Indigenous people despite their most recent inexplicable failure? Some days it’s hard to say. But we continue in this chamber because our allegiance is not necessarily to government but to the issues that we have clearly articulated in the CASA.
My choice to stay here should be seen as a steadfast expression of the accountability we share in the decisions that we make in this House. It is our duty, our opportunity, our burden. It is what the people of British Columbia have elected us to do.
What we saw here yesterday were British Columbians — young and old, Indigenous and non-Indigenous — expressing a staggering lack of confidence in this institution. They were lashing out at all of us. Every one of us received the same treatment coming through those doors. It did not matter where your seat was in this place. The anger, the frustration, the angst that was hurled at us must serve as a wake-up call.
Whether you have a “Hug a pipeline” sticker on your bumper or not, we’ve seen the image from around the world of what happens when people lose confidence in their government. From day one, there have been calls from people for the B.C. Green caucus to pull government down, to punish them for one wrongdoing or another.
Yesterday, as I was coming to work to do this job, to even excoriate this government for their lack of attention to some of the details or their unwillingness to help British Columbians see the whole picture of Indigenous relations in this country, people were screaming “shame” at me.
Well, the members elected to this Legislature are largely of a certain generation or two. It is important that we understand that generations following us are of the most aware of the impacts of climate change, they are the most compassionate generation to Indigenous rights issues, and they are possibly the least patient generation ever in this country when it comes to violations against their future and injustices to Indigenous people.
We have been educating them to have a different understanding. While this House continues to make the same old decisions to subsidize dinosaurs, the next generation are rightly angry that the members of this House are literally lighting fire to their future. We should be thankful that they bring this awareness and compassion. We should be not surprised when they react strongly when their elected representatives are selling them out.
Also, we are kidding ourselves if we do not see that they are supported by our peers, people of our generations. Two and a half years ago I came into this chamber wrapped in a blanket, with TEMEȽ on my face, to the beat of drums of my W̱SÁNEĆ family.
It is that powerful expression of love that my family showed for me, even after what generations of decision-makers in this very chamber did to them, that I must now show a compassion and love for this institution. Because tearing this place down, destabilizing it, making it more fragile, in light of what I witnessed yesterday, is the opposite of what we as a society need. Maybe that’s the paradox that was created here yesterday.
I carry no shame because I believe I stand on the correct side of history. A year ago, every member of this chamber had an opportunity to vote whether LNG Canada and the Coastal GasLink pipeline should proceed. My B.C. Green colleagues and I voted no and used every democratic tool at our disposal to change the outcome we now see. But every NDP and every Liberal MLA voted yes 14 times over despite being well aware of the realities of climate change and long-standing rights and title challenges in the region.
Instead of shame, I carry a determination to continue to build on the hard-fought progress we have made in the name of good governance.
As the budget rolls out next week, the B.C. Green caucus will be highlighting the specific opportunities we need to be leaning into to build a strong future for our province. To all those that have been disenfranchised from a political system, I’m speaking to you. There is another way, and it is more, so much more, than just a recast of the status quo or a remake of a 1950s tragedy about the British Columbia dream.
I want to end with this. Reconciliation is not dead. I will not allow the important work of finally convincing a Crown government to enact the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples to evaporate over a Christmas break and a ridiculous climate change–inducing expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure that has no viable market without the substantial corporate welfare gifts of taxpayers.
Instead, I will take my place in this chamber and demand that the Premier and ministers of this cabinet explain how they are expediting the action plan for reconciliation. I will be clear that this is not a one-term or a one-session project for me. Indeed, this is my entire existence. It is not about creating binary options and demanding clarity on where we stand — this side or that side. We cannot. And we should not extract ourselves from the incredible complexity that makes up who we are, where we were born, and what we were born into.
Reconciliation is not dead, because when it dies, our dignity dies with it. I believe that we all will fight to keep reconciliation alive so that we can be good ancestors and leave for our children a dramatically different world than the one that we inherited. As a person elected to this House to represent W̱SÁNEĆ, Saanich North and the Islands, my business must be done in this House.
We each have our job and our role to play. For each day that I am the representative of that great and beautiful territory, I’ll be working to improve the outcomes in this place. HÍSW̱ḴE SIÁM.