It’s been almost a week since news broke in the media of the discovery of the remains of 215 children in an unmark, mass grave on the grounds of the former Kamloops Residential School. Since the news broke, I’ve been struggling with what to say about this. I’ve wanted to scream, swear, rage against the colonial machine that brought this about. I’ve commented on the radio about it, but haven’t been able to find the words to type that I felt properly explained how I felt or expressed what I felt needed to be said.
I guess that part of that comes from having been down this road with our political leaders too many times. After spending a decade on Parliament Hill, I’ve had my fair share of moments where pain came, followed by hope that Canadians were finally pushed to act, only to be followed by more of the same a few days after that pain vanished from the news cycle. It’s a cycle of its own that’s played out for generations in this country, so when this story broke, I couldn’t forget cycle. As much as I want to believe the best and hope for better, that history doesn’t allow me to.
That’s a major reason why I haven’t written this piece before now. Not only have so many others said things so much better than I could, but I also didn’t have it in me to put down my two cents. It wasn’t until watching Question Period today that I saw something that compelled me to write. It was the exchanges below that pushed me to write what comes next:
I haven’t wanted to get my hopes up that this time could be different because that would involve our political leaders doing something that they rarely do; put aside the partisan crap and actually act. In this moment of urgency, I didn’t want to hear partisan cracks about past terrible track records or none of the “I won’t take any lessons from…” lines. This wasn’t the time for that, it just wasn’t, yet that’s exactly where Justin Trudeau went.
The Prime Minister was faced with calm, respectful and a serious suggestion by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, he replied with the usual partisan hackery lines and looking stunningly tone deaf in the moment. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also presented the PM with a concrete, tangible action that he could take, and he replied with more talking points. It was exactly the kind of crap that I feared would come, almost as if Trudeau couldn’t get over himself in this somber moment.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t trust Erin O’Toole or the Conservatives on this file. It was only months ago that O’Toole’s own awful comments on the Residential Schools came into public view and the Conservative record on Indigenous rights. It’s true that the Conservatives denied a mere $1.5 million to help families find and identify these dead children, while spending many times more on “priorities” like gazebos in Muskoka or snowmobile trails in Quebec. It’s also true that the Conservatives killed Romeo Saganash’s UNDRIP Bill in the Senate with procedural crap and are vehemently opposed to the government’s version of that same legislation now.
All of that is true, and there is a time and a place for that to be brought out and litigated. But guess what? This wasn’t it! This wasn’t the time for that sh*t. Just as it wasn’t the time for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to opine on Sir. John A. and “cancel culture”, this afternoon wasn’t the time for Justin Trudeau to try to score some partisan digs at the Blue Team. This wasn’t it! The Conservatives crap record on Indigenous rights does not excuse or make Liberal inaction fine by comparison. Trudeau was tone deaf, craven and somehow made O’Toole look far better than him.
Why is that? Because while O’Toole has a freight trains worth of baggage that he and his party carries around on Indigenous issues, he actually got the right read of the moment and was actually trying to be constructive. The fact is that Indigenous leaders from across the country are calling for the Federal government to move fast on funding the searches of Residential School sites to help families and communities have closure. It’s about closure, finally giving these families the chance to know what happened to their loved ones and try to help the healing begin. Suggesting that Trudeau announce a plan to fund this work before Canada Day was not an unreasonable suggestion. In fact, I would argue with how this government can turn things around when they’re motivated, asking for this to be done in a month is completely reasonable and the right thing to do.
And it’s the right thing to do because actually acting can break this damn cycle that I’ve spoken about above. The only way that cycle is going to be broken is for all of Canada’s political parties, who all own their own shares of the blame and history of Residential Schools, is to stop with the usual partisan finger pointing and sh*t, grow up, suck it up, face history and act. Today in the House, I saw both O’Toole and Singh doing that. The Prime Minister brought the opposite, and it was as striking as it was disappointing.
When it comes to those who represent the side of the Canadian Government in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, there is no one who comes into this with clean hands. Yet those are the people we have to address this and there is no way they can address this if they are too concerned about polls, score political points on their opponents and reducing everything to “they’re worse than us”. They have to stop finger pointing long enough to actually get this done. The path of reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples is a long one, and this moment is just one step towards that. In order for us to move forward, that will require Canadians political leaders to grow the Hell up and stop this usual crap. The families and survivors deserve nothing less, yet as today showed us, that appears to be too much to ask for.