By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
VICTORIA – Premier John Horgan called for calm in the Legislature as Opposition members chastised the government for its handling of Indigenous Relations, including the protesters and blockades in Victoria and Vancouver.
“British Columbians deserve to know what the Minister of Indigenous Relations did and what he said and how he worked through his negotiations to deal with the blockades,” Shirley Bond, MLA for Prince George-Valemount, said in Question Period last week.
Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, along with his Federal counterpart, Carolyn Bennett, Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, spent an intense three days and three nights negotiating with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs about rights and title. On Mar. 1, a tentative agreement was announced that would, if ratified, implement title quickly, and coordinate how the government bodies would work together. The hereditary chiefs have taken the agreement back to the clans in their territories for ratification.
“It’s not appropriate for me, with respect to the Wet’suwet’en people, to speak to those issues,” said Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, “until the Wet’suwet’en people have a chance to review and ratify the arrangement that we had come to.”
The agreement is part of implementing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which all Members of the B.C. legislature passed last year.
“The declaration actually speaks to consulting and collaborating in good faith with Indigenous peoples as a way to change the Crown-Indigenous relationship,” said Fraser. “That is exactly what we are doing as government. It’s what I am doing as minister. Is it hard work? I’ve never faced harder challenges. Is it worth it? Yes, it is.”
But Bond wasn’t impressed.
“British Columbians expected this minister, in those negotiations and any agreement that he agreed to, would include the issue of blockades, but that simply hasn’t happened,” said
Bond. “British Columbians have no idea — not one detail of the agreement that this minister agreed to.”
Bond then referenced news articles in which elected and hereditary chiefs have expressed dissatisfaction with negotiations.
“The Premier has completely mishandled this file,” she said. “British Columbians want and deserve answers.”
The premier stood to answer the question.
“These are extraordinary times. They’re extremely uncomfortable… for all of us,” Horgan said. “These have been an extraordinary few weeks, unparalleled in my personal experience and, I believe, in the history of British Columbia.”
Horgan then put the question back on Bond.
“I would also ask the Member who asked the question, the Leader of the Official Opposition, and other Members on the Opposition side, what suggestions and advice they may have for how we address the situation (of the protesters at the legislature)?”
The Oppositions erupted in a storm of criticisms.
Much of Question Period related to Fraser’s decision to meet with protesters inside the Legislature the previous evening. Five protesters were arrested when they refused to leave the legislature following the meeting.
“Members, we shall hear the response,” said Speaker Darryl Plecas, trying guide discourse back to a place of civility.
Horgan powered through, asking to “work together as British Columbians, putting aside our partisan perspectives and try and find a way forward.”
“We agreed in November as a unit (passing the Reconciliation legislation) as every member of this House, to work towards genuine reconciliation. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
This lit up the Opposition bench.
“Bad judgement,” said Peter Milobar, MLA Kamloops-North Thompson.
“You’re a real peacemaker,” a male voice from the government side shouted back to Milobar, who shrugged.
The shouting continued. Bond joined in.
“Then what, Member? Then what?” Horgan said to Bond. “The Member on that side of the House prefers to just throw her hands up in the air and so do the rest of them.”
The Opposition erupted.
“You put people at risk,” said Todd Stone, MLA Kamloops-South Thompson.
Bond shouted, jabbing her finger in Horgan’s direction.
The Speaker asked for quiet. The Speaker stood. “Members, order please,” said Plecas.
The Premier forged on.
“I would suggest in a very sensitive period where there is high tensions outside the building,” said Horgan, “that it would be better to calm the tensions down inside the building.”
Interjections amped up.
The Premier tried again. “The message all of us should be sending to British Columbians…” he stopped short at an off-camera comment from across the aisle.
There would be no abatement.
“We have politics outside. We have politics inside,” said Horgan. “Just another day in British Columbia.”
The buzzer rang. End of Question Period.
“Real strong, real leadership,” Milobar added, before turning to wink at a colleague.
Meanwhile, outside – unbeknownst to the politicians inside – the protesters were packing up to go.
Click here to view the full interaction between Bond, Fraser and Horgan.