In an Indigenous segment she called “fractured” Elizabeth May of the Green Party led all leaders at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., by acknowledging the Monday night debate was taking place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation.
Then it would be more than an hour before the segment on Indigenous issues was introduced – chosen from more than 8,000 questions submitted by the public.
But the issues facing Indigenous peoples across the country failed to take hold as the debate switched from First Nation, Metis and Inuit issues to the federal government’s relationship with the provinces.
It’s not like the issues weren’t raised.
Natasha Beedie, from Beausoleil First Nation, asked the leaders if they would implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Other than the Greens, Liberals and NDP saying they would implement UNDRIP, and the Conservatives and People’s Party of Canada saying they wouldn’t, the answers were vague due to a format that didn’t allow time for in-depth, thoughtful responses.
Canadian Human Rights Tribunal compensation order
On Oct. 4, the federal government announced it was appealing a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordering it to pay First Nations children and families who have had contact with the child welfare system $40,000.
It’s one of the few issues the Liberals and Conservatives agree on.
The Conservatives already announced they would have launched a judicial review of the decision – just as the Liberals did.
But the NDP wouldn’t.
“We wouldn’t take Indigenous kids to court,” Leader Jagmeet Singh said from the stage of the Canadian Museum of History.
Reaction to the move dominated social media in the lead-up to Monday’s English-language debate and put Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the hot seat.
One of the few surprises came during this segment.
Trudeau did say during the debate that children named in the CHRT ruling would be compensated.
“We recognize the tribunal’s ruling that says that children need to be compensated and we will be compensating them,” he said.
“But we’ve also moved forward to end the tragedies by moving forward on legislation that keeps kids in care in their communities with their language with their culture.”
He also said Ontario’s Grassy Narrows First Nation, which has been suffering mercury poisoning for decades, would see a mercury treatment centre.
“Money is not an object here,” he added.
Trudeau defended his party’s record on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and touted its work lifting long-term boil water advisories on many First Nations.
The debate was held at the same venue where, five months earlier, Trudeau accepted the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in June.
But its calls to justice and conclusion of genocide have failed to make a dent in the campaign or party platforms.
The format of the debate, with five different moderators and topics, kept the answers to a minimum.
There was little added to questions about healthcare and how climate change was affecting First Nations, Métis and Inuit.
May called the Indigenous segment “fragmented” after party leaders often switched to discussing provincial issues rather than debate the Indigenous issue on hand.
APTN News hosted a pre- and post-debate show with Indigenous commentators in several Indigenous languages.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said he would balance concerns about the environment while approving pipelines as economic drivers.
“When we’re talking about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples we need to remember when you talk about free, prior and informed consent that leaves a great deal of uncertainty about what that means,” Scheer said.
“And there are large numbers of Indigenous communities who want these energy projects to succeed and we need certainty and clarity around it.”
The four other debate topics were: affordability and economic insecurity; environment and energy; national and global leadership; polarization, human rights and immigration.
Leaders from all six national parties were present.
Maxime Bernier, of the fledgling Peoples Party of Canada, suggested “broad reform” was needed to the Indian Act system of First Nations.
His party would build a new system based “on self-reliance,” he said.
Scheer also brought up the SNC Lavalin scandal during the Indigenous issues segment.
“I have nothing to learn from Mr. Trudeau, who fired the first Indigenous attorney general for doing her job,” Scheer said.
Canadians go to the polls Oct. 21.
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