By Fran Yanor
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
In the midst of continuing demonstrations and blockades that blocked traffic and stopped the movement of goods across the country last week, Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond pressed Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnsworth to denounce comments made by the Sierra Club in support of the disruptions.
“Will the minister stand up today and denounce those that promote and participate in the illegal protests that are wreaking havoc across our province?” said Bond.
First Nations and other groups have formed blockades in several provinces in support of the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs who have rejected construction of the LNG pipeline across their territory. All 20 elected First Nation chiefs along the proposed pipeline, which will run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, have signed agreements in support of the pipeline.
“People in this country and this province have a right to peaceful protest,” responded Farnsworth. “We support that. We do not support illegal protests. We do not support illegal blockages.”
View the full interaction between Bond and Farnsworth on our website and what devolved into a raucous heckling exchange in the BC Legislature last week.
Housing Minister Selina Robinson came under fire last week when Opposition members compared actual housing units completed to the government’s commitment to deliver 114,000 new homes to the market.
MLA for Prince George-Valemount Shirley Bond admonished Robinson for completing only two per cent of the number of units previously promised, sarcastically suggesting “the minister should flip her book over and take a look at page 4.… (of) her very own report…what does it say under the completed column?” Bond asserted, only 2,430 units of new housing had been actually completed as of January 2020.
Before the Housing Minister began speaking, Opposition Members drowned out her response in a barrage of derogatory heckling. Even shouting her response didn’t help observers in the press gallery. Checking Hansard later, which relies on the sound recorded in individual mics and a gifted team of transcribers who somehow make sense of what, for visitors and the press, often comes off as a cacophony of bellowed schoolyard insults,
Robinson said, “This is a 10-year plan. We didn’t commit to 114,000 in two years. We said that over 10 years, we will work together with our partners to deliver housing.”
Balancing the budget
The B.C. government is relying on taxpayers to balance the 2020 Budget, said Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond.
“Whether it’s their Netflix account, their Disney account, whether it’s the carbonated beverage they’re going to have, whether it’s through the employer health tax, the taxes just keep on coming,” Bond said during the
Budget debate last week. The debate format allows different Members to speak uninterrupted at length, so there was no immediate government rebuttal to Bond’s criticisms. “This government would rather rely on the pockets of British Columbians to make ends meet.”
Bond said new taxes were the source of the government’s surplus. “You need to grow the revenue-generation side of the books. There was none of that in this budget.”
Meeting with Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership
As of last week, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership had not responded to the B.C. and federal governments requests to meet.
“We’re working as cooperatively as we can to find a way forward,” said B.C. Premier John Horgan at the Legislature last Thursday. “There’s a whole bunch of pieces at play. It comes back, at the end of the day, to when will the hereditary leaders be in a position to sit down and discuss a peaceful way forward.”
The government had been in discussions with the Wet’suwet’en over the past year, Horgan said. “We deliberately, at the request of the chiefs, separated out longstanding governance questions from the issues around this industrial project and we were making good progress in that regard,” he said, adding the provincial government wants to get back to those talks as soon as possible.
The past several weeks, a series of protests and blockades across the province and country have seized the public mainstage and stalled talks between the Province, the federal government, and the Indigenous groups. One of the fundamental issues of the protests relates to the role of elected versus non-elected Indigenous representation.
“The vast majority (of indigenous leaders in BC) have said in various ways, the Wet’suwet’n have to figure out how the Wet’suwet’en will govern themselves,” said Horgan. “Our declaration act would accommodate that by allowing indigenous communities to determine who speaks for them.”
Last November, Members of the B.C. legislature unanimously passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which, among other things, legislated the government’s commitment to respect the human rights of Indigenous peoples and to work cooperatively with Indigenous governments.
However, the Declaration laid out future intentions and wasn’t meant to apply to the LNG project. “That’s a forward-looking document,” said Horgan. “(It’s) not a document that’s looking back over a six-year permitting process for a pipeline that has overwhelming support of the people in the region.”