BY BRADLEY NORTHCOTE
Respect is earned, and politicians should show it themselves before demanding it. There are few times this is truer than when they leave themselves open to public criticism over environmental issues. If Prime Minister Trudeau is serious about demanding “respect” from First Nations communities, he must earn it by showing respect for them.
At a town hall in Winnipeg on Jan. 26, protesters confronted Trudeau about his message of approval for Trump’s support of the Keystone XL pipeline. In doing so, critics say he is backtracking on a campaign promise to require consultations with First Nations and their genuine consent for any new natural resource development projects.
Trudeau accused the protesters of a “lack of respect,” even as he openly supports projects with a serious potential to devastate treaty lands (as shown by a recent spill in neighbouring Saskatchewan).
Building or showing approval for hazardous projects through treaty lands without proper consultation or consent is disrespect.
Waffling on funding for mental health programs in remote communities until after two girls commit suicide is disrespect.
Failing to live up to a promise to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is disrespect.
Calling for a public inquiry on missing and murdered First Nations women and yet failing to take concrete action to address the problem is disrespect.
When it comes to climate change and respect for First Nations’ rights, the debate is over. Trudeau has had plenty of platforms for discussion.
It’s time for action.
As for Trudeau’s “You’re gonna get tackled” comment after another man in the crowd stood up: it makes this scene the definition of a “bully pulpit.” It’s little wonder that B.C., where tankers will pick up crude oil from pipelines, is not on Trudeau’s town hall itinerary.
His response emphasized the importance of “getting resources to market.” Yet doing so should not and does not require dismissing the real concerns of communities through which pipelines would be built.
Ernie Daniels, an elder from Treaty 1 territory, which includes Winnipeg, saw the growing tension and urged protesters to calm down and show respect while on Treaty 1 land. The protesters went quiet, and Trudeau launched into his answer.
Rather than spending his answer on lecturing protesters about respect, it would have been well-advised to show the substance of his actions in addressing environmental concerns. To deflect the issue toward the protesters’ conduct and say only that fossil fuel reliance won’t change overnight doesn’t address them in a meaningful way. To be fair, he did mention a “pan-Canadian framework” for reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, but he offered no details.
A 2012 study with a candid title, Is Earth Fucked?, by American geophysicist Brad Werner found, given prior research showing a 10 per cent reduction in emissions per year would be necessary to avoid a catastrophic increase in global average temperature of 2° Celsius, there is one great hope for climate researchers: resistance.
In an interview on Jan. 27 on CBC News at 6 p.m. with Terry Milewski, Daniels said there were other appropriate spaces for protesters, though he shared their environmental concerns. It’s true there are other spaces for protests. Yet, if Trudeau is serious about wanting to hear “a broad range of voices” at town halls, he should expect some to be raised in anger. He should expect that on contentious issues, he and some Canadians may not speak the same language.
Werner’s study suggests it’s not respect for political authority that will prevent climate change, but disruptive civil disobedience and skepticism. Given the long list of social issues facing First Nations communities in Canada, they are among the most motivated to take such direct action. Trudeau is within his rights to be frustrated about this, but he should remember, as parliament returns this week from its Christmas break, that there have been times when he’s broken rules of civility in a much more formal setting.