With the dramatic protests that unfolded around the legislative precinct on opening day of the Spring session there is much confusion about all aspects of Indigenous reconciliation going forward.
I have been clear that I am deeply frustrated with the B.C. NDP’s decision last Spring to deliver an taxpayer funded subsidy package to get a final investment decision from LNG Canada. My concerns were environmental as well as social and the looming challenges that existed for decades in Wet’suwet’en territory. Unfortunately, it appears that situation was left to resolve itself and it did not.
However, I also know that when we passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) that there was always going to be legacy issues that would haunt us. That is why the focus of my supplemental question to Minister Scott Fraser was about how his government is going to be leaning in and what are the immediate steps he is going to take to expedite the action plan for the DRIPA.
We, indeed, have seen escalating protests across the province and across the country. As people are rallying in response to the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who have, as has been pointed out, opposed the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline.
At its core though, and what’s not being said in the previous questions, is that these protests represent the long-standing failure of Canadian governments to properly adhere to Supreme Court decisions that established the need to address and reconcile Aboriginal rights and title with the Crown sovereignty.
The issues that the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have raised are not new. Government has been well aware of the existing, long-standing and unresolved matters relating to rights and title in the area. Yet, in spite of this, the NDP prioritized the financial regime, putting in place to get LNG Canada knowing full well that there was work to be done in the Wet’suwet’en territory.
My question is to the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. Why did the government proceed with approving a fiscal package for LNG Canada when they knew these outstanding matters — legacy issues over 30 years with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs — had not yet been resolved?
Hon. S. Fraser:
I want to thank the Leader of the Third Party for his question. This project represents a significant opportunity for all people in British Columbia. Three thousand people so far have been hired on the project. Local and Indigenous businesses are benefitting from this project. The project will generate its estimated $23 billion in revenue to the people of British Columbia for the services that we all use and care about.
B.C. did conduct extensive consultations with Indigenous nations and has signed agreements with the vast majority of nations along the pipeline route. Substantial efforts also have been made to consult and accommodate concerns that have been raised.
I should also note that we’ve been engaging in meaningful discussions —government-to-government, nation-to-nation discussions— reconciliation discussions with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. That is the Hereditary Chiefs.
Our discussions are proceeding in a respectful way with recognition that this work together is both complex and will take time. But this work is continuing. We will continue to work closely with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, the Hereditary Chiefs.
The Leader of the Third Party on a supplemental.
One of my proudest moments as an MLA was the passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, DRIPA, as its known. One of my hardest days was being escorted into this place by police to get past protesters screaming that reconciliation is dead.
I’ve worked with the minister for over two years to bring us to the introduction and the passage of DRIPA this past fall. When this House passed DRIPA unanimously, we all took responsibility for recognizing that Indigenous laws within the Canadian legal system, while also expressly recognizing that leadership other than established by the federal Indian Act exists.
I will never accept that reconciliation is dead. In fact, now is when we must lean in. However, it is more important than ever that this government, through their words and more importantly their actions, shows a pathway forward. My question again to the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation: what are the immediate steps he is taking to initiate a more positive dialogue and set in motion the action plans required to truly engage in the work that this government committed to in advancing reconciliation?
Hon. S. Fraser:
Thanks to the member for the question. The Leader of the Third Party also, I want to thank him for his advice and his insight for the last two and a half years on the work we’ve been doing in the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation around a whole range of initiatives regarding reconciliation. I want to thank him for that.
While the events of the past week underscore, I think, the challenges that we all face in reconciliation, they in no way shake our resolve as government, or I would hope for all of us in this place, to advance reconciliation. B.C. is the leader in advancing reconciliation.
We made history by recognizing the human rights of Indigenous people in law in this place just a few months ago. The process of aligning B.C. laws to the UN declaration will take time, but that work is already underway.
The next step is developing an action plan in collaboration with Indigenous peoples which will set out the human rights of Indigenous people in law in this place just a few months ago. The process of aligning B.C. laws to the UN declaration will take time, but that work is already underway.
The next step is developing an action plan in collaboration with Indigenous peoples which will set out the priorities and the timeline and the accountabilities. We have begun discussions with Indigenous partners on how best to involve Indigenous peoples in the development of the action plan. In addition, all ministers are continuing their ongoing work to look at their legislation within their ministries to bring them into alignment with the UN declaration.
But there’s a lot more to do, and reconciliation is a top priority for this government, regardless of the events of this last week. I would just remind everyone in this House of the $50 million towards Indigenous language revitalization, the sharing of revenue, the largest revenue-sharing agreement in the history of this province — $3 billion over 25 years, long-term, stable funding that never existed before — for every First Nations community in the province. Delivering affordable housing on reserve — never done before. And of course, ensuring that children are cared for in Indigenous communities, where that care belongs.
All of that work forms the basis for us as a government, changing the Crown-Indigenous relationship in a way that will make it better for all people in British Columbia.