As we enter the last two weeks or so of this General Election campaign, it’s very interesting to see where the leaders are going and spending their time. Where they go says a lot about how their campaigns are going, if they are on the offensive trying to pick up new seats or if they are on the defensive, trying to hold what they have.
It’s also interesting to see where the leaders are going because of timing and circumstances. Saturday we saw a prime example of this. On Friday we heard about the Liberals decision to keep fighting Indigenous children in the child welfare system in court, a move that has brought about a wave of indignant reactions from many out there. Before all that happened though, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh had already planned to be in Northwestern Ontario and was planning to be in Grassy Narrows on the Saturday, where Chief Rudy Turtle is the NDP candidate. That was the backdrop and the scene for what came next, and folks, it was something to behold:
“Why is that even a question?” How many times have we asked ourselves that question when it comes to the rights and needs of Indigenous peoples? How many times have I asked myself the same bloody thing? I understand what Global News reporter Mike Le Couteur was attempting to get at, asking about the costs of things, and I don’t put any malice at his feet on this. But that doesn’t excuse the language used when asking the question and the impression that language created.
Jagmeet Singh was absolutely right when he put that question right back at the assembled press. We don’t ask these questions when other cities are struggling with these issues. The press or government would never ask that question if Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver or Edmonton was without clean water. It would get fixed, and the cost would simply be the cost of getting it done. There would be no penny pinching exercises and whinging about the expense, it would just get done, period. Yet every time when we have the same conversation about Indigenous communities, the media finds their inner Preston Mannings and start to opine about cost. It’s as ugly as it is predictable, and good on Singh for calling it out.
And it’s not lost on me the fact that Mr. Singh said this in Grassy Narrows of all places. Grassy has been living with the fall out from mercury poisoning of their river, their water source and the fish in that same river for decades. In fact, they’ve been dealing with it longer than I have been alive, and I’m 40. I grew up an hour from Grassy and have seen first hand the effect that has had on Grassy and also Wabaseemong, another First Nations further downstream who have suffered the same way. It has been devastating beyond description and the fact that we are still here, in 2019, without this being dealt this is a crime. But if that wasn’t bad enough, remember what Justin Trudeau did around this as a posh Toronto fundraiser just this spring:
“Thanks for your Donation” he said, with a smarmy tone that dripped with condescension and disregard for their concerns. We’ve seen those kinds of quips from him before, but that one was especially bad when faced with someone who was simply asking for their water to be cleaned and their healthcare needs to be met. It was ugly and is impossible to separate from what happened yesterday in Grassy.
Mr. Singh was exactly right when he pointed out the hypocrisy of this, because it’s something that we all know deep down. We’ve seen governments all over Canada move Heaven and Earth fiscally to ensure that their communities have clean water. Winnipeg actually build a 200 km long aqueduct to Shoal Lake to draw water for their citizens, while the residents of First Nations on Shoal Lake, who lived at the other end of the pipe, went without. We can all point to massive projects with big price tags that the Government of Canada has built for much less important reasons, so to suggest making sure all Indigenous communities have clean water as fast as possible is akin to giving a “blank cheque” is the kind of ugliness that needed to be called out.
Through out this campaign Jagmeet Singh has continued to find the right tone and the right answers in the right moments like these. You could tell from watching him that he was simply reacting, that it wasn’t scripted and that was just Jagmeet being Jagmeet. That’s part of the reason why that video went viral yesterday, as most people out there could easily connect with what he was saying. He was right, and most Canadians knew it when they heard it. It’s just that it’s rare to hear any elected people actually say it. That moment of truth is one that will be talked about for a while to come and may just have a big impact in this campaign yet.