This weekend brought some welcomed and good news from Smithers, British Columbia. After a few days of talks and negotiations between Canada, B.C. and the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs arrived at an agreement to acknowledge land & title rights. The draft deal is tentative, subject to approval by the Wet’suwet’en nation itself.

While the details of the deal itself aren’t public and won’t be until that next step is take, it’s a good sign and showed what can be accomplished through negotiation. And maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that at the same time this happened, we heard another interesting development of good news, leaving some to think that maybe at least one political party has taken some lessons from this case:

It seems that maybe a light has gone off for some on the Blue Team, or at least with Jamie Schmale, the party’s Crown-Indigenous Relations critic. I know Jamie, having dealt with him for a few years on the House of Commons Natural Resources committee, so I take his comments as sincere. Maybe it’s an admission of the obvious: you can’t govern Canada without having plans for working with Indigenous peoples. You can’t build “nation building projects” if you ignore Indigenous rights and you can’t be seen as a serious option to govern in 2020 if you continue down that path.

That’s something that’s been clear to most parties before now, but like with Climate Change, the Conservatives have been the laggards on this matter. And similar to Climate Change, if your policy amounts to ignoring the issues, then you won’t win the trust of enough Canadians to govern. Schmale points out that he and others in his current caucus sees coming out of this current situation “an opportunity to have a bigger conversation about First Nations and how we can all prosper together”. He’s not wrong, the ignoring of Métis and Inuit in his statement aside (baby steps folks, Rome wasn’t built in a day). There are opportunities there and that involves engaging and offering their take on solutions and ideas.

Personally, while I disagree with much of Conservative policy, I do believe that having all parties bringing ideas to the table helps the overall policy discussion and actually advancing the issue. So to see the Conservative caucus talking about this is a good thing, but like with many things these days, while this seems like a good step forward, other news points to a couple steps back coming up shortly, or at least if a certain person has his way:

Ahh yes, that pesky coronation leadership campaign, it rears it’s less than pretty head again. In that, we’ve seen the presumptive winner, Peter MacKay, try to burnish his credentials by taking pot shots at Indigenous leaders with his comments. That lead to an interesting scene in Thunder Bay on Thursday night when MacKay held an event in support of his campaign. Inside the room, he drew 80 people to hear him speak, but outside, more than 140 people came to support the call of local Indigenous leaders to protest MacKay’s comments about them. Yep, that’s a new way to get ratioed. And if that wasn’t enough, TVO’s Jon Thompson caught this shot outside:

Yeah, not a great look to see a riding president “engaging” with Indigenous protestors like that, especially given why they were there. But that aside, all of Mr. Schmale’s words today might get washed aside by something that MacKay is now promising to do, should he win. It says a lot about where MacKay’s priorities lay and if you’re shocked, well maybe you shouldn’t be:

Yep, forget everything else, forget trying taking some time to engage the Indigenous community and work out some ideas from the Blue perspective. Nope, MacKay’s first priority seems to be triggering an election and to heck with the rest of it. Add to the comment about “keeping the trains running on time” and the nasty historical context around that, this seems to be about as tone deaf as it comes.

So in a moment when it seems like the Conservatives are having a thoughtful breakthrough, the person who is the odds-on favourite to become their next leader takes that all out at the knees, opining about having an election ASAP. This is as real a case of “one step forward, two steps back” as you can see. It also makes one wonder if Mr. Schmale and his sincere reflections are a true minority in his caucus or if his future leader shares the same perspective. If not, I would argue it’s a crying shame. But if these two stories show anything to Canadians, it’s to what degree the current leadership machinations of a few people have done to any potential progress for the party they actually want to lead. While those handful of people have their roller derby of a campaign, doubling down on doubling down on policies and speaking points that Canadians have rejected over and over again, an honest to goodness conversation that this party needs to have, that some seem to want to have, is being drown out. To me that’s a crying shame because while I’ll never likely vote Conservative, to see their party stop denying Indigenous Rights and actually coming to the table with real ideas and outreach would be good for advancing Indigenous Rights as a whole. Running on denying and ignoring Indigenous Rights is not acceptable in 2020, and let’s hope that the last hold out in this matter is able to avoid having a leadership campaign stop their own realization of that fact.

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