The 2015 Federal election was a bit of a watershed moment in Canada, but this was especially true for Indigenous voters across the country. After years of Stephen Harper and his Conservatives antagonism towards Indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast, many people were frustrated and itching to act.
We saw the “Idle No More” protests across the country, we saw round dances appearing everywhere as an act of protest and cultural pride and we saw more attention being drawn to Indigenous issues than we have in a long time. We also saw the tabling of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, a moment that I will never forget. I got to be in that room, and it was hard not to cry in that emotional moment, being there with survivors of the Residential Schools, some of whom I got to know over the years and consider to be friends. It was not an easy moment for sure, but from that moment came an image that I think crystalized the moment and the government we faced at the time. This image said far more than any scripted words that came after from the Harper Government:
I still remembering thinking to myself what a cold, uncaring person couldn’t rise to their feet in that moment, and I know I wasn’t alone. After this whole period of time, Indigenous people knew it was time for Stephen Harper to go and responded. With the NDP and the Liberals to choose between, both actively seeking their support with policies and promises that spoke directly to the concerns and hopes of Indigenous peoples, there was a choice to be made. But regardless of who exactly they voted for, Indigenous people turned out in numbers we haven’t seen in a long time, if ever, and there are many Liberal and NDP MPs who owe their wins to Indigenous voters who supported them.
So, after that election, needless to say we had our hopes raised up. With the election of the Trudeau government, many felt that maybe there was a change in the wind, there was a chance to move forward on important issues and that we might get somewhere this time. And while this government has made progress on some things, it’s failed mightily in others, and as time has gone on, we’ve seen how “the most important relationship” for this government has evolved to where it is now. We’ve started to see more and more evidence of the trust being gone and the kind words from the PM just not matching up their actions, or lack there of. Given that situation, three things I saw this week speak to that relationship being damaged and the possible blowback for the government. The first came with this op-ed I saw in the Toronto Star:
For those who don’t know, Riley Yesno was a member of the PM’s youth council, which she ended up leaving. She was also one of the Daughters of the Vote who protested the PM last week. And when you read her words, you can’t argue with that. In the end, those aren’t the words of someone who is satisfied with the government or the status quo; that’s someone who has been let down, how had their hopes dashed and is fighting for better. It should also serve as a warning to the Liberals, especially those who have been hectoring progressive voters by saying “if you don’t vote Liberal, you’re electing Andrew Scheer and it will be all your fault!!!”. That line is never a good one, it rarely works, and it surely doesn’t work when your image and credibility has been obliterated by scandals like the SNC/PMO scandal. Long story of the short, you need the benefit of the doubt to make that work, and the government has lost that. Another story that came across the feed yesterday also speaks to some of the feelings out there:
In the last election, the Indigenous Rock the Vote campaign was one of the biggest organizing successes by a grassroots organization that you can point to anywhere in a long time in this country. With her work, Tania Cameron was able to help Indigenous communities around the country get out to vote, while dealing with the roadblocks that the Harper “Fair Elections Act” threw up in the way of Indigenous voters. That bill was intended to keep Indigenous people from voting, and with hard work and determination, efforts like Indigenous Rock the Vote helped to drive a record Indigenous turn out at the polls. So, one would have to wonder what would happen in 2019. In 2015 Stephen Harper himself was a major motivator in getting people out, but as she points out in this piece in Windspeaker News, she is now just as motivated to get rid of Justin Trudeau. She will be pushing for New Democrats to be elected. That can’t be a good sign for this government, to see a movement that helped to elect some of his MPs now be turned against him. But another story that came out yesterday also speaks to this, one I honestly can say I didn’t see coming:
Folks, meet Joan Philip; she is a band councillor with the Penticton Band and she has decided to run for the NDP in the BC interior in Central Okanagan – Similkameen- Nicola against Conservative Dan Albas. She is a highly qualified candidate and a great addition to the NDP team, but here’s the part of this that should be concerning to the PM and the Liberals; Her husband is UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, one of the most prominent Indigenous leaders in British Columbia and Canada. Grand Chief Philip has recently said of PM Trudeau that “the sun is setting on” him and that more bluntly, “he’s toast, absolutely toast” after the expulsions of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. So now you have one of the most respected Indigenous leaders in the country not only upset with the current PM, but that I feel safe in assuming will be supporting the New Democrats in the Fall campaign. Something tells me that “but what if Scheer wins….” line won’t be of much use there.
If I were the Liberals, these are signs that would be worrying to me about where the coalition that helped to elect me in 2015 might be going. It may seem like some chickens are coming home to roost here, but it looks like the PM and his team might have a big problem on his hand. Remember the Assembly of First Nations has identified 51 ridings with high Indigenous populations, where Indigenous votes go a long way to electing their MPs. For a government that holds many of those seats, is targeting others held by other parties and sits just a dozen seats over a majority today, that is a big problem going ahead. We’ll see how this all plays out but if I were members in the Liberal caucus, especially in one of those 51 seats, I wouldn’t be feeling as good today as I would have a few months ago.