Today the House of Commons is back in session, after an odd break of a week and a day. MPs are back in Ottawa to deal with the issues that face the country and today that means the Wet’suwet’en protests. Given that most of this story has played out while the House of Commons wasn’t sitting, we haven’t seen a lot of the usual theatrics that might usually accompany such an important story.
In fact, it’s been refreshing to not see what that usual circus on Parliament Hill, but that’s not to say we’ve been completely exempt from it. We’ve seen ugly comments from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Conservative Leadership contenders wanting brute for to be used. On the other side we’ve seen comments from Green MP Paul Manly, who denigrated the choices made by Indigenous communities in the case saying that the “conceded”, not “consented”, which is a prime example of what I spoke about last week about “allies” not respecting the choices of Indigenous nations.
But despite all that, the House was coming back today and it was quickly decided that tonight there would be an emergency debate on this issue. And before that debate comes in primetime tonight, all of the party leaders had a chance to make a statement in the House on this important issue. This was a moment for seriousness and to try to help move things forward. Would the leaders rise to this occasion? Well let’s just say politely that it wasn’t what was needed. First off, the Prime Minister:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has cut his campaign for the UN Security Council short and instead of going to the Caribbean to go after votes, he was in the House to speak today. This was a chance for him to advance this issue and show that he’s really understood what’s going on. This was a chance for him to show that there is more than words behind his talk of reconciliation. Not to put too fine a point on it, he failed in that today, if he was in fact trying to accomplish that. Now that’s not to say that Mr. Trudeau said much that would offend or attack Indigenous rights. In fact, I doubt that much of what he said would be offensive to anyone. But what he gave was a lot of platitudes, high-minded words and was as Trudeau a speech as we’ve ever seen. To me, that is precisely why it failed. This was boilerplate JT, something that simply isn’t good enough in an important moment like this. He had nothing to announce, little to say and it made many wonder why he even gave the statement if that was going to be it. He didn’t step up his game this morning, which isn’t encouraging. And speaking of discouraging, next up was Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer:
If Justin Trudeau’s speech was so predictable and what we normally see, Andrew Scheer managed to match that standard in his own “Angry Andy” way. We saw Andrew Scheer screaming the same words we’ve seen him use before, about throwing the book at protestors and ignoring the wise words from the Ontario Provincial Police last week about the independence of the police in this country. And just as the Greens through Paul Manly tried to denigrate the choices of some Indigenous nations, Scheer decided to denigrate the choices of the other side, trying to make them sound illegitimate. Needless to say, this mad howling and gnashing of teeth did precisely zero to actually help this situation, but I’m sure it raised a few bucks for the next election campaign from his members, which I think really speaks to where his head is at. Nothing that came out of Scheer’s mouth was different from any other speech we’ve heard him give for the past two years, which tells you all you need to know about what’s going on here from that side. Next up was Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, adding his two cents:
Look, I wasn’t expecting much from Blanchet here and really, he didn’t bring a lot to the table either. He floated a couple of ideas out there, but on the whole his speech was a lot of platitudes as well. To his credit, he didn’t drone on as long as others have, but given what’s going on here I wasn’t expecting much. At the end of the official parties in the House of Commons came NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who gave his own contribution:
Okay, we’re four for four folks, a perfect record of expected words and platitudes. Singh gave the normal NDP positions on Indigenous Rights and did raise the specter of the fact that the Government of Canada is still trying to fight First Nations child in care in court, juxtaposing that with this situation. But did he really say anything that made him stand out from Trudeau or Blanchet? No, not really. In fact, this past week has made me increasingly feel that the decision to make Singh the NDP Critic for Indigenous portfolios was a mistake. It’s not beyond redemption and there is symbolic value in having a leader taking this file on directly, but I’m starting to feel that there isn’t much there beyond the symbolism. Just from the pattern of his comments around this whole situation have left me with the impression that he doesn’t have these issues down yet. I remember when Tom Mulcair was elected NDP Leader he made a point of learning everything he could on this file because he admitted it was a file, he probably knew the least about. I saw him firsthand pour himself into the file and ask lots of questions when he didn’t feel sure. He knew he needed to learn and set out to do that. And while Singh has visited many Indigenous communities and given a lot of facetime, listening to that speech I didn’t hear someone who had that same level of knowledge as Mulcair did at this point in his leadership. Either way, putting that aside, Singh didn’t bring anything new to this conversation at a time when ideas were needed.
After listening to these speeches, I can’t help but dread to think what kind of performance we’ll see tonight for hours of emergency debate. This morning offered a chance for all party leaders to step up and rise to this moment. Sadly none of them managed to do that, falling short of the mark and while doing no more damage to the current situation, they didn’t really move anything forward. We’ll see how this week goes but if we see more of what we saw this morning, it’s clear that a solution to the current circumstances won’t be found in the seat of Canadian democracy.