Canada’s four major parties have made strong promises when it comes to furthering reconciliation.
Ending boil water advisories, implementing all 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, advancing self-determination, and investing in affordable housing and mental health support were all items at the top of the list for North Shore candidates.
For Mike Simpson, Green Party of Canada candidate for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, advancing reconciliation in Canada, “starts with the truth.”
“We have to implement the 94 calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of which 15 or so have actually been implemented [completed],” he said.
“The truth part of ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ is the first step. I've heard this time and again, from Indigenous people. They want people to know what happened in residential schools. They want the history to be recognized.”
The Greens are committed to “Reconciliation, Nation-to-Nation engagement and self-determination for Indigenous Peoples,” according to the party’s platform. The party also promises to end boil-water advisories by investing in and upgrading infrastructure, ensure all Indigenous people have educational opportunities, to educate non-Indigenous people on First Nations history and culture and to support health-care services that incorporate traditional practices.
Simpson said the Greens would “champion” getting Indigenous people into positions “where they can actually determine their own futures.”
“What we actually want are Indigenous people in power and making decisions themselves, which is at the core of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people and self-determination,” he said.
Similarly, Kelsey Shein, Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Burnaby North-Seymour, said the Conservatives “believe in building a true partnership, to ensure a just and secure place for thriving, self-determined Indigenous nations within the fabric of Canada.”
“We want immediate action on calls to action from the TRC, 71 to 76, and then we want to work with Indigenous leaders to come up with a plan to implement the rest,” Shein said. "This is a must do.”
Shein, who is a proud member of British Columbia's Métis Nation, said the next piece she was passionate about rectifying was making clean water available to all Indigenous communities.
“Our party will recognize clean water as a fundamental human right,” she said. “We will fight to resolve the long-term boil advisories across Canada. It’s a national shame that we don't have clean drinking water for all Canadians, and we need a government who will take action on this.”
The Conservatives have also made a commitment to invest $1 billion into mental health for Indigenous people, with guidance from First Nations groups and people.
Shein added the Conservatives are also going to be working on a “for Indigenous by Indigenous strategy” on housing.
“We want Indigenous people to not only have a stake in these conversations but really to be the guiding force of how we should approach some of Canada's most complex issues,” she said. “I believe a lot of our solutions really exist in our ancestral knowledge, and so to ensure that we're listening to Indigenous people as partners, is going to be key to driving those issues forward.”
Coming from an Aboriginal law background and having worked with First Nations across the province with Ratcliff and Co. (legal services), Patrick Weiler, Liberal Party of Canada incumbent for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, said reconciliation was something he “felt strongly about” and it was “frustrating” when NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said they’ve “done nothing in this space.”
“We've done so much," he said. "Just in terms of infrastructure, under [former prime minister Stephen] Harper, we were only spending about 11 billion a year on Indigenous priorities. Today, we're now doing almost two and a half times that.”
He highlighted that one of the most important pieces of legislation passed this year was the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act into Canadian law.
“We have an action plan over three years to really implement this that's going to require a whole of government approach,” he said.
The Liberals will also invest $2 billion toward an Indigenous Urban, Rural, and Northern Housing Strategy and commit an additional $1.4 billion toward mental health. Other priorities include actions to confront systemic racism – especially in the justice system and health care – and protecting the well-being of children and families.
“We're going to be co-developing a number of plans, which really is the way forward,” Weiler said. “Ideally, getting to some of the situations like we're seeing with the shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation, where they've been able to move toward self-governance agreements.”
While the Liberals didn’t meet their March deadline to end all long-term boil water advisories as previously promised, Weiler said they were “very close to getting to that end point,” with 116 now lifted. There are still 51 long-term drinking water advisories, according to Indigenous Services Canada.
“All the remaining ones we see across the country are now actually being built or just waiting for approval to have that advisory lifted,” Weiler said.
The Liberals have also committed $321 million to support First Nations in uncovering burial sites at residential schools and to help with the trauma associated.
“We need to be able to uncover the full truth,” Weiler said.
Tammy Bentz, New Democrats Party candidate for North Vancouver, said to start, “we have to uphold Indigenous rights and advance self-determination” by fully implementing the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action.
Among a long list of commitments, New Democrats have also promised to address the Indigenous housing crisis by implementing a co-developed, fully funded Indigenous National Housing Strategy within their first 100 days in office. They also say they will invest in children and end funding discrimination, and close education and health gaps, as well as address the harms of residential schools.
Bentz said it was “inexcusable” that there are still Indigenous communities that do not have drinking water available to them, adding that the NDP would invest in infrastructure and programs that would “end the divide.”
“Everything from education to housing, to health care,” she said. “Because drinking water is just a starting point to us, that’s the very, very least that we do, and we do it now,” she said.
“Upholding Indigenous knowledge, respecting inherent sovereignty – this is what we want to start with.”
Bentz added that focusing on relationships was key to moving forward.
“We have to build a better relationship than we've had,” she said. “I want to start with me, I want to make sure that people feel heard and feel represented.”
The big platform of the NDP is that we don't leave anyone behind, said Bentz.
“And, of course, our Indigenous people are at the forefront of that, because they've been left behind for so long.”
Elisia Seeber, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Shore News