Cloverdale – Langley City candidates talk reconciliation
Candidates in the Cloverdale - Langley City riding share their views on reconciliation in the Fraser Valley
For the 2021, federal election, The Current is focusing on two issues with critical and unique local implications: housing affordability and Indigenous issues.
We sought interviews with candidates from each of the four major parties. In Cloverdale – Langley City, we spoke to Liberal candidate John Aldag and NDP candidate Rajesh Jayaprakash. Conservative candidate Tamara Jansen did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. (You can read why we did not request interviews with other parties’ candidates here.)
To read candidate questionnaires from other ridings, and to catch up on all our election coverage, check out our Fraser Valley Votes election hub. You can also read our riding profile for Cloverdale – Langley City to learn more about the election in that riding.
Liberal — John Aldag
FVC: How did the news of the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools across the country affect your thinking personally on how Canada needs to address past wrongs?
Aldag: It’s a tragedy. I think that it’s a good thing that we’re now having this conversation, but also, when you ask how it affected me personally, there is also a bit of frustration because we know that our First Nations people, our Indigenous persons, residents, citizens, our First Nations community have known for generations that there have been missing children. I lived in the Northwest Territories in the mid-1980s and met families who had been taken away from their parents and sent to residential schools, and who had siblings that never came home, and there was always a sense of frustration and anger and sadness that this had not been on the national stage. And so I’ve spent many hours listening to these stories throughout much of my adult life. When I was elected, I was able to actually work on implementing one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.
And so for me, some of the frustration comes from that when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report was tabled, there actually was a full chapter in 2015 on the missing children, and the fact that Canadians only woke up to it with these tragic findings of Kamloops and the other schools—it’s six years late, and in many cases it’s generations late. So, with that, I’m glad that we’re having the conversation now. I wish it had happened earlier. But I think it’s a shameful chapter in our nation’s history, and we need to face up to it. And by doing this collectively with the affected communities, that will eventually and hopefully sooner than later lead to the reconciliation that Canada needs with its Indigenous persons.
FVC: On that report from 2015, does the current government deserve criticism for not moving fast enough on the calls to action? One of those calls to action, as you know, talks about providing funding for finding unmarked graves basically.
Aldag: My understanding is that there there has been money made available for it. I’m sure you’ve gone through the calls to action. Not all of them fall under federal jurisdiction, but of the ones that do, the government has either completed or initiated actions on 80%, or just over 80% of those. So there has been, you know, significant side work done since 2015 on the calls to action. They need to be also done respectfully, and in consultation with the communities with the Inuit, Metis and the First Nations across the community. So it’s not something that the federal government can go in and single-handedly force. It’s about respectful relationships. It’s about having the discussions about how to approach things. And I know, I’m having discussions on the doorsteps with people saying, ‘Well, you know, now that the children have been found, we need to do something.’ But I know, within the communities, there’s a lot of discussion about are we going to try remove the children and identify them and return them to families? Or do we commemorate and mark the graves where they are and reflect the tragic story? And I think that discussion, that conversation has to be guided by the Indigenous peoples of the country. It’s not something that government can decide. And so I think we need to be there in a supportive way to listen to the Indigenous communities, and what their needs are. And it’s going to be different from community to community, from residential school sites to residential school site. Part of the tragedy of the residential school system is it was very intentional on taking kids, children, far away from their families. And so will we ever know which communities the kids came from?
That’s where I think going through the records that the churches are finally starting to release will help understand the issue. It’ll help the communities understand where their children may have been placed, and where they may have perished under the care of the state. So on your question, I think the government has done well on advancing the file since 2015. I don’t think that anybody could have said that within a year, two years, three years, four years that they had completed, because I don’t think that would have allowed for the very sensitive discussions, consultation and, frankly, listening that’s needed to lead to closure but respectful closure
FVC: Should federal Crown land be turned back over to First Nations on who’s who, whose traditional territory includes those crown lands?
Aldag: You know, there’s a whole range of federal Crown lands and so it’s everything from military installations to national parks to lighthouses to so I think we need to look at the whole suite. When I was in office, I was part of, and then chaired for the final year, the Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, and we actually did a study looking at how to expand protected areas in Canada to meet our international targets. And one of our key recommendations was looking at greater protection of, or having an expansion of, Indigenous-managed crown lands and what that looks like, whether it’s under Indigenous ownership or under the federal government’s ownership. The stewardship of the Indigenous communities is to be determined and that has to be through again, respectful consultations. I think that we have seen progress in national parks, is one example. I had spent my career prior to politics working for Parks Canada, and in many cases, the Indigenous inhabitants who had been there from the beginning of time being forcibly removed. We’ve seen that in other locations like Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver. And I think that it’s about, again, understanding the relationship that those on whose traditional territories properties like national parks exist is how do we bring them back in.
In many cases, these landscapes had a cultural footprint, as we’re seeing with the fires in British Columbia. In many cases, the Indigenous peoples understood the role of fire and how that can control these types of massive burns that we’re having, and when it actually increases the biodiversity within those protected spaces. And then we need to bring in that, that oral history, the traditional knowledge that our Indigenous communities have on those landscapes so that we can manage them in a way that they had been managed for thousands of years. So again, whether we simply turn the lands over, because ownership comes with some challenges, that’s where I think the respectful discussions have to happen between government and the Indigenous communities about what makes sense. I know, we have made commitments internationally to protected spaces. And as I said, the work that our committee did found that having a much greater system of Indigenous-owned lands, or -managed lands, will be good for the country. It’ll be good for nature, it’ll be good for the climate, it’ll be good for biodiversity.
FVC: Should consent from Indigenous communities be necessary for the approval of infrastructure projects on their traditional territory? And if so, how do you ensure consultation processes have the legitimacy they need to be respected by all parties?
Aldag: I think that, yes, we need to have meaningful consultation. And, you know, and I think that we’ve seen through court cases over the last couple of decades that paying lip service and then going ahead and doing projects simply is not working anymore. Our government moved forward with Bill C-69, which had significant opposition from the Conservative government, who felt that it was appropriate to force these kinds of megaprojects through Indigenous lands without meaningful consultation. And Bill C-69 was meant to actually give more structure and definition to the process on consultation. It means that when there are projects that those who are being affected by it have the opportunity for input. Now it doesn’t give veto on decisions. It’s about recognizing that there are multiple interests in the land. But if it means that if there are, say sacred areas, that should not be disturbed, it means rerouting projects around, or it means compensating or otherwise accommodating concerns are there, that that’s part of this discussion that we need to have as the federal government with the Indigenous communities across our country.
And so, absolutely, yes, consultation has to be done in a meaningful way. It can’t be about foregone concrete conclusions. It can’t be about bringing in communities at the 11th hour and saying, ‘Here are the plans now, tell us that you agree to them or else,’ which has been the kind of strong-arm tactics that we’ve seen on many projects in the country over generations and I think that if we want to move beyond some of the protests and blockades and things because of the absence of meaningful consultation, we need to move to a new way of doing business. And I think that is about bringing in the Indigenous communities right from the start of projects, making sure that their voices are heard, that their traditional knowledge is actually understood and respected and considered and that the decisions on these types of inbound mega or energy infrastructure projects or other projects that impact their traditional lands. And only through those types of actions will we ever get to a much more positive and respectful relationship that, frankly, the federal government has really failed to abide by. We know that treaties were signed in good faith, from the time of settlement of the country, and the Crown, the colonizers, the settlers have not respected those. It is time that we turn the page on this and actually respect the intent of those historic agreements,
FVC: But a lot of people would say consultation is a way to hear from hear from people and then do what the government wants to do anyways, and that a lot of people are saying that something like consent, of some sort or another, should be the line that the government must cross or meet to be able to proceed.
Aldag: I think that a lot of the communities are also figuring out what that looks like. We saw that a couple of years ago with the railways and related to infrastructure projects. And it’s like: is it the elected chiefs and tribal councils versus the hereditary chiefs who are the decision makers? And I think that, again, that’s why there’s not simple solutions, and it may vary from community to community. These are conversations that we’re finally having, as governments and nation to nation. And I think we all need to learn. There’s not going to be one simple solution that can be applied everywhere because there will be nuances and differences from Indigenous community, to Indigenous community. And that’s where I go back to anyone’s time to listen, and listen in a meaningful way, I’ll tell you, for me, it’s a very personal thing. It’s something I take very seriously.
When I was in my early 20s and living in the Northwest Territories, I was working in a national park and we were doing a management plan. And some of the First Nations community members were expressing concerns about some aspect of the plan. I had the government response why this was the necessary way to go. And one of the elders, Big Frank was his name, who has since passed away. He finally stood up, he said: ’Young man, you need to listen, you’re talking too much, and you’re not hearing what the community saying.’ And he asked me to sit down. And then I could hear the community’s needs. And it’s a lesson that I’ve carried with me for my adult life: that our Indigenous, our elders, our communities have a lot of knowledge, they have expertise of living on the land, from the beginning of time. And as settlers as colonizers, we need to listen. And that’s where I’m really excited about the opportunities that we have, as a country to move forward. And I believe that the Liberal government is the one that can do this in the most meaningful and productive way. And that’s why I’m running for office: to be part of these types of conversations and to help us move beyond the type of relationship that we had to one that is much more functional and inclusive and respectful, that actually values consultation and will allow the voices of our Indigenous communities including the elders, who are the keepers of knowledge, to actually come into decision-making.
FVC: What happens if and when the views of First Nations or Indigenous people conflict with your party’s policies or priorities? How do you process that in evaluating those policies and ideas?
Aldag: Well, I think that that’s where we all need to learn to do business differently, particularly from the colonizers’ and settlers’ perspective. I think, if you want to get through to moving forward, moving beyond the kind of power imbalance we’ve had, it may mean that some of our party’s policies or government’s policies and positions may need to shift. And it’s only by sitting down and having those conversations and seeing where the discussion goes, will we actually know.
And, and that’s why I think that, by being part of government, by being part of that voice, I can push on our government where we need to perhaps rethink some of the positions that we’ve taken historically on any number of files. And to me, that’s the only way that we’ll see the healing, the kind of reconciliation that I believe we need and that we owe to our Indigenous peoples, so that we can all move forward and in a very responsible and respectful way.
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NDP — Rajesh Jayaprakash
FVC: How did the news about the discovery of the thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools across the country affect your thinking personally about what Canada should do and how it should address its past wrongs?
Jayaprakash: Yeah, that was. It’s really a shock. It’s something that had been denied. It’s something that all of us I’m sure, maybe many of us had heard these rumours already but for a lot of people in Canada it hit like a rock. I think it’s very hard to look at their eyes and speak anything. We totally failed them. It’s very hard to look at their eyes and say anything because of the long list of empty promises. What the NDP will do is make sure churches hand over those records, help to identify more graves, if there are and there is a bunch of policies again, but I think, we can summarize it as saying that we are fully committed to implement the TRC recommendation, the 94 of them.
FVC: In your platform you say consent from this Indigenous community should be necessary to approve large infrastructure projects and for just general federal policies. But there’s discussion about the legitimacy of consultation processes, and who and how you determine that consent. So what needs to be done to put processes in place to ensure those consultation processes have legitimacy that is respected by everyone?
Jayaprakash: I think when it comes to consent not just in Indigenous communities but universally, the term we should be using is ‘informed consent.’ I think that’s what the NDP is going for. It’s just not consent. There is a lot of ways on manipulating it, that’s what we believe has been happening and that’s what the NDP will stay away from and look at a form of informed consent.
FVC: What does that look like in practice?
Jayaprakash: It’s making sure we have a meaningful dialogue with them, making sure they understand it. It might take a little longer, a bit more effort on our side, and finally arriving at a point where both the parties are equally happy and they know what they’re doing, they know what they’re agreeing to.
FVC: You mentioned the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those include a lot of things that aren’t just federal government responsibilities. What would the NDP do to ensure that all 94 calls to action are met when some of them aren’t explicitly federal government actions?
Jayaprakash: It’s not only on this or any particular stream like housing or reconciliation. It’s general: we have three levels of government. And I don’t think at the [provincial] level or federal level or any level of government can do everything. Of course, there are some exceptions. But the thing is who was putting that effort, who has that heart and mind and willingness to make that happen through other forms of government and Indigenous people.
FVC: Should federal crown lands that are on the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples be turned back over to those peoples?
Jayaprakash: I need to get back to you on that. I need to learn a little bit more on that.
FVC: And what happens if and when the news of First Nations or Indigenous people or communities conflict with the NDP’s own policies or promises? How do you process that into making decisions and evaluating those policies and ideas?
Jayaprakash: There is a long list of things to do. And of course there are going to be some areas. But we are pretty sure that Jagmeet Singh and the NDP has the best platform to work with them. And definitely we are not going to be 100% aligned and that is something for consultation.
FVC: Right. But when you aren’t 100% aligned, and you’re promising—
Jayaprakash: Right, when you do bigger things and smaller things there are naturally things we’re not sure of and they’re not sure of. It’s having a dialogue.
FVC: But when you’re promising to respect the consent of people, what do you do when you hear something that conflicts with a government’s priorities? How do you process that just? What’s the decision making? How do you take that in, do you say no, we’re not going to do this thing that we’d like to do because this doesn’t have that consent? Or do you take another step as people would say other governments have done?
Jayaprakash: Well, I think this is the normal course of action that has been happening. We try to do things. The question is do we have a list of things that we will do, then go talk to them and get it all wrong. The idea is not that. To have a meaningful dialogue with them and not give up when you hit a roadblock. And, you know, just not give up. But again, the goal remains that we actually achieve consensus.
These interviews have been very lightly edited for clarity and basic grammar. Nothing of substance has been omitted. Each interview was recorded, but technical difficulties with two interviews makes publishing consistent recordings for each candidate difficult, so in the interest of fairness and consistency, we are publishing the transcripts.