I remember the happiness and good energy when John Horgan accepted being Premier of the province. Gone was Christy Clark and her regressive government! Oh, happy day!! There was hope again. I went to the open house at the legislature and there were line-ups of people waiting to get in, busloads of people arriving and a crush of people trying to congratulate the Premier and his Ministers.
Now almost a month post the Site C decision I detect anger, disappointment and betrayal. People thought NDP represented good change, not the same old Liberal agenda. They thought the NDP would protect the environment and First Nations rights. I have received copies of emails from various people cancelling their membership and donations to the party. The decision was a blow to the NDP government and their support base.
Horgan had made a lot of election promises that got people excited, especially First Nations people. I think the election promises and mandate letters are the best of the NDP in 2017.
Some of the Premier’s promises included:
1. “Implementing the principles of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) will be a priority for all of our ministers. We’ll review policies, programs and legislation to determine how to bring the principles of the Declaration to action in British Columbia.
2. “We will also work with Indigenous people to improve relations and make sure decisions affecting land, air and water are legal and respectful. We’ll preserve our healthy environment for present and future generations, while ensuring all British Columbians benefit from the sustainable development of natural resources.”
3. “We will accept and act on the 94 Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) final report. We will work with First Nation and the government of Canada to do this.”
As parties do, they promise big things, and then we wait for them to act on them or we hold them to account for those promises. So far, the NDP government is batting zero in relation to UNDRIP. I do know they have to develop how they will bring the principles in UNDRIP to action in conjunction with indigenous peoples but in the meantime they should be living up to the spirit and intent of those principles.
UNDRIP has 6 clauses that deal with Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) regarding legislative and administrative measures, anything affecting lands or exploitation of minerals, water and other resources. One must assume that the NDP studied UNDRIP and the Calls to Action to know what they said in order to commit to implementing them.
In order to put their election promises into their newly formed government, every Minister was given a mandate letter with the following paragraphs:
“As part of our commitment to true, lasting reconciliation with First Nations in BC, our government will be fully adopting and implementing UNDRIP and calls to Action of the TRC. As Minister, you are responsible for moving forward on the Calls to Action and reviewing policies, programs and legislation to determine how to bring the principles of the declaration into action.”
This all sounds good but when you get down to it, the worst of the NDP occurred with the approval of Site C dam that did not obtain the FPIC of all indigenous peoples that were affected directly and indirectly. Horgan said that the project was beyond consent and that the liberals did not do that and it was too late. Their government had the ability to cancel the project if the First Nations objected so this just wasn’t true. This violated FPIC and any chance at reconciliation with some Treaty 8 First nations and other First Nations in the province that wanted to develop renewable energy projects.
To make it worse, when John Horgan said “I am not the first to stand in front of you and to disappoint First Nations people, but I am the first to stand before you and say I will make amends for a whole host of issues.”
The premier basically said, why not add to the years of misery and colonization by the settler government by making a decision that goes against First Nations consent? I understood him to be saying I am not the only one to disappoint, so you are used to it, but I will make amends. What he should realize is that he cannot make amends for destroying irreplaceable and invaluable rights and sites.
In answering questions on the day of the announcement, he says that surely we can get around the acrimony of this one big project and get to the things that matter. The things that matter according to Horgan is training, adequate housing and programs that lift people up. He doesn’t mention that housing on reserve is a federal matter as are a lot of programming. He uses his own values to determine “what is important.” If he doesn’t think that burial/sacred sites and a way of life is important that site C will obliterate than we have a big problem.
The Site C decision will not go away. Someone on Twitter told me to get over it, the decision was made and to move on. It is not over, there will be more cost overruns and many generations will continue to pay for the financial, environmental and social costs of Site C.
Many First Nations want to develop clean energy and the Premier said there would be a program to do so. What this will look like is not known, when power will be needed in light of the glut of power Site C will produce, how First Nations will be involved and how much power will be procured. The premier did mention “small” and will that give First Nations appropriate sustainable development?
It will be very important for the BC Government to work with First Nations in designing any opportunities. So far the Energy Minister has not met with First Nations to find out their interests in the industry. This small proposed program is a token for First Nations and the Independent Power Industry.
How the Premier makes amends is also unknown. What could have been the start of a good relationship and building a foundation of working with First Nations has turned into uncertainty and turmoil.
The worst and best of 2017 is behind us and seeing what is ahead for 2018 will determine if the Premier can regain his footing with First Nations. Trust once broken, is hard to regain…