Justin Trudeau's Site C headache just got worse after Assembly of First Nations jumps into the fray
During the last federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau portrayed himself as a good friend of Canada's indigenous peoples.
His Haida-inspired tattoo, his roster of First Nations candidates running as Liberals, and his soothing words on the environment were like catnip to voters keenly interested in reconciliation.
Here in B.C., the former regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Jody Wilson-Raybould, signed on with Trudeau's Liberal party in the new riding of Vancouver Granville, easily defeating her NDP and Conservative opponents.
When Trudeau appointed her as justice minister, it left many Vancouverites with a palpable sense of joy.
But with his handling of the Site C dam in northeastern B.C., Trudeau is frittering away that goodwill.
The $8.8-billion megaproject along the Peace River has long been opposed by B.C. farmland advocates and some First Nations leaders in northeastern B.C. That's because it would flood 83 kilometres of the river valley to produce electricity, even though demand for power has been flat in B.C. for a decade.
More recently, an Amnesty International campaign against the dam has turned this into a global human-rights issue.
Trudeau's government has awarded federal permits to allow the dam to be built while indigenous people are making arguments against the project in court. It strikes some, including the president of the Royal Society of Canada, as an infringement on aboriginal interests.
"This is not the blueprint for Canada in the twenty-first century, especially given Canada's recent decision to support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," Royal Society of Canada president Marysse Lassonde wrote in a letter earlier this year to Trudeau. "Work on the Site C project should be discontinued for this reason alone."
Today, the Assembly of First Nations jumped into the debate on the side of Treaty 8 First Nations, including the Prophet River and Moberly bands.
This is the same Assembly of First Nations that was once headed in B.C. by Wilson-Raybould.
Wilson-Raybould's successor, Chief Shane Gottfriedson, made his views clear in a news release.
"From the time this project has been proposed, First Nations have consistently voiced their strong support for Treaty 8 chiefs and the requirement, under Canada's constitution and under international human rights law, to secure the free, prior and informed consent of West Moberly First Nation and Prophet River First Nation on the Site C hydroelectric development," Gottfriedson said.
Then he called on Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau to address the issue.
"I had the privilege to paddle the Peace as did the former regional chief and now Canada's justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, and she understands the importance and magnitude of the impact of the destruction of the Treaty 8 homelands," Gottfriedson said. "Let us not forget what we're fighting for: the right for our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren the ability to continue to exercise their rights as their ancestors have done before them."
An indigenous Liberal MP from Winnipeg, Robert-Falcon Oullette, broke with his colleagues and spoke out against the dam. This has lit up the Twittersphere with messages urging people to write to Oullette to express their gratitude.
Trudeau and B.C. premier Christy Clark have tried to remain out of the spotlight in connection with the Site C dam. Anyone paying attention to this issue has probably noticed that B.C. Hydro does nearly all of the talking, offering cover to political leaders.
But the reality is that had Trudeau refused to provide permits and had Clark insisted on a more robust consultation process, including an independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission, the Site C dam would likely never have gotten to first base.
The politicians are going to have to wear this one, no matter how hard they try to duck the issue.
Sooner or later, there's going to be blowback against Wilson-Raybould as well. These winds could easily be strong enough to finish off her political career, particularly if First Nations leaders decide to campaign against her in Vancouver Granville in 2019.