Langley – Aldergrove candidates talk reconciliation

Candidates in the Langley - Aldergrove riding share their views on reconciliation in the Fraser Valley

By Tyler Olsen | September 17, 2021 |6:15 am

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 Langley – Aldergrove, we spoke to NDP candidate Michael Chang and Conservative candidate Tako Van Popta. Liberal candidate Kim Richter and Green candidate Kaija Fastad 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 Langley – Aldergrove to learn more about the election in that riding.

NDP — Michael Chang

FVC: How did the news about the discovery of those thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools across Canada impact you personally?

Chang: It’s just shocking. Because—I went to the event in Aldergrove, and Indigenous leaders came out and they had a traditional dance. They had a story about—actually one of the ladies was actually a niece of someone who passed away in that school. And I heard some of the stories, and I just couldn’t believe my eyes. [Unclear.] I came to Canada because Canada is very inclusive, and we embrace all the cultures. I just couldn’t believe it actually happened in Canada, and I still cannot believe what happened. I heard there’s no real documentation about unmarked graves with the children. So we need to find out what really happened in residential schools. This is just shocking.

FVC: So federal Crown lands that are on the traditional territory of Indigenous groups, should that land be turned over to those First Nations?

Chang: Yeah. I think the Indigenous people and the First Nations, they have a right to do anything with their land, because it is a promise we made a long time ago with the Indigenous leaders. So if they ask, we have to let them have the ownership and whatever they request. They are already kind of independent from the government structure. So just keep their land, keep their culture, and keep their language. I think that should be fine with me.

FVC: So the NDP have said that consent from Indigenous communities is going to be a necessary part of the approval for large infrastructure projects. But what needs to be done to make sure that those consultation processes have a legitimacy that both the federal government and Indigenous groups can agree on and feel is important?

Chang: The consultation process is about to change. We kind of shared a different thought about what should be happening for the next generation. So we keep discussing with the leaders of the Indigenous people, just to share that idea about what is the best way to keep their culture and with their causes or the other people. So I think having a good relationship with their leaders, and the government is really essential. We need to hear from them more. So you know, having a formal discussion is really important, you know, with the relationship with our Indigenous people.

FVC: How else would you see the federal government working on that good relationship with Indigenous groups?

Chang: I think we should have a special Task Force team to deal with someone who understands their cultures and their people, and we should make a special team to hold a discussion. It’s not about who has the power and who doesn’t have it. It is about they’re part of Canada and we use their land for our sakes. So we just need more to listen to what they propose and what we can do as a government to do what is best for all the people. So we need to have a special team to work with our Indigenous leaders.

FVC: So one of the things that we’re interested to know is what happens if the bulk of First Nations groups on a particular infrastructure project, for example, disagree with your party’s idea or your party’s promises for that? How would you process that in evaluating the NDP’s policies and views on things?

Chang: It demonstrates, you know, the bumpy road and along the way, and I think the consultation is not about the government and Indigenous leaders. The consultation should go along with maybe some different parties or different opinions with the government side, and just a general public side and the Indigenous side. So I think we probably have about the best relationship with the Indigenous people compared to the other parties. So I think it should work out well, bringing more people and more voices into the discussion table. I think we might find a way to help every side.

FVC: I was going through your platform earlier, and it outlines a number of specific items that the NDP would want to work towards to ensure reconciliation happens in Canada. And it also promised to enact all 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation report. A lot of these calls to actions are things like repealing sections of the Criminal Code or developing national plans—all things that the federal government has the ability to do.

But there are also a number of calls to action that the federal government really doesn’t have a huge role in, like calling on the Pope to issue an apology or calling on faith groups to work towards complying with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. So how would the NDP work to ensure that those calls to actions are enabled, given that they’re not under federal jurisdiction?

Chang: Okay, that’s a really tough one.

First of all, you know, the religious, who are usually run by the Catholic Church or the Christian church. I think we need to get more information about all the documentation about what really happened. So we don’t have that much information right now. It’s not about the criminal charge or anything, we just want to get to the facts of what really happened, and I think the government can ask for the documentation from the churches, but I think they can say no? I’m not really familiar with religious matters. But we need to be gathering more documents or any kind of information that we can invest on. So we need to gather more information about what happened, so that there’s some kind of initiative for all the moves we should all make. Because the truth, it should come before the reconciliation. It’s kind of really sensitive when dealing with religious parties as they government, because it can give people wrong ideas about trying to find the truth, but maybe some people have a different idea about the government trying to pressure their religious groups. So we have to really be careful about how to approach but the bottom line is we need to gather as much information as possible, as a full investigation. But there’s a really tough job to do as a government.

FVC: Well, I think we’re pretty much out of time now. So thank you, Michael, for taking the time.

Chang: Yeah, I’m so sorry. Because I just got home and I was in so many meetings, and this is my first campaign so I’m kind of out of my mind these days. And maybe some of my answers are probably not the most amazing ones, but I would do my best. Now I’m kind of studying all the subjects that I’ve been asked so far but I think for the Indigenous matter, it is really our priority to find the truth and to find a way to work towards reconciliation.

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Conservative — Tako Van Popta

FVC: How did the news of the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools impact you personally, and your thinking around reconciliation?

Van Popta: Very shortly after that became news, I reached out to Chief Gabriel here in Langley, in my riding, and she’s the Chief of the Kwantlen First Nation community. And I met with her community, and it was a very difficult meeting, to be honest. You know, I spoke to Elders of the community and residential school survivors and with this news coming out of Kamloops, the pain was fresh. I could see that was real. And the anger was just below the surface. So I really, really sympathize with them. And they asked me as their Member of Parliament to do whatever I can towards reconciliation, I’ve committed to doing that. But I want to have this as well., that, yeah it was news. It became public. The local media, the national media picked up on it. But it’s not really news at all. Because we’ve known about unmarked grave sites for years. The Truth and Reconciliation Report, which is now six years old, talks about it. Six or seven of the calls to action talk about what Canada needs to do about unmarked grave sites at residential schools. So it’s not news at all. Really, not for those who have been following. And I just think it’s a real shame that so little action has been taken in that in that six year time period.

FVC: I guess that leads to the next question, then. In the Conservative platform. I know you guys mentioned specifically, I forget the exact numbers, but it’s in the 70s. I believe those are the ones around the residential schools, those calls to action.

Van Popta: That’s right.

FVC: Is your party committed to following through on all the other federal-related calls to action in the report?

Van Popta: Yes, we are. We take it very seriously. Some of them are easier to implement than others. Who would have thought that dealing with unmarked grave sites might not have been the most difficult ones, so that’s why I’m really particularly disappointed that there’s been so little action there. I don’t speak for my party on this, and if we form government, I don’t speak for Mr. O’Toole as prime minister, but we take this report very seriously. And we will work diligently to implement the calls to action.

FVC: Should federal crown lands that are on the traditional territories of First Nations groups be returned to them?

Van Popta: Well, yeah, certainly, there’s some federal crown lands, not in my riding, but a butting right up against it, which the federal government has now declared to be excess lands, and so there’s a lot of interest in that piece of real estate. It’s a very important piece of real estate. And is it going to go up for development? You know, is it going to go up for residential housing? Is going to go for commercial development? Or is it going to be reserved for parks? The first step is dealing with the Indigenous nations who have a claim to it. And I support that, I think that it’s very important to talk with communities and hopefully come to some consensus on what is the best use of these lands.

FVC: The Conservative platform has promises about supporting partnerships with Indigenous groups who want natural resource development on their lands. I think it specifically says that the previous government had “repeatedly failed to consult with First Nations and territorial governments before canceling projects and shutting down opportunities.” So how would your party handle projects where Indigenous communities aren’t in favor of the development on their lands or where two Indigenous groups have opposing views? Because we know that happens.

Van Popta: It does happen, sometimes even within the same First Nations community, there are opposing views as to whether a project should go ahead, yes or no. I know Mr. O’Toole talks a lot about partnership with First Nations people when it comes to infrastructure projects. And I support that completely. I want Indigenous communities to thrive and to participate in our economy in the most fulsome way. And partnering in natural resource development and infrastructure development that touches on their lands, or sometimes runs right through the lands, must be part of the plan. So I support that completely. What do we do with opposing views? Well, that’s what negotiations are about. You know, hopefully we come to a consensus. I’m not going to prejudge any negotiations. If we’re talking about the Northern Gateway pipeline, or the LNG pipeline of northern British Columbia, I’m not going to prejudge what the outcome of the negotiations will be. But I think that the government needs to come with an open mind. And an open book, and discuss in a very fulsome manner, and be genuine about what our interests are, and also receptive to what the local community’s interests are.

FVC: So just to follow up on that: what needs to happen to ensure that those sorts of negotiations or consultation processes have a legitimacy that’s respected by everyone involved?

Van Popta: When we talk about free, prior, and informed consent, which is a big part of UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. So we need to understand better what free, prior, and informed consent means. You know, we’ve determined that it does not give First Nations communities a veto over every project. But it does require genuine discussion, and debate, and negotiations. And I believe that two partners coming together, the federal government and the First Nations community that are affected, if they come to the table with honest debate and intend to come to a resolution, that they will come to your resolution. What the outcome of that will be, I don’t know. What’s that going to look like? Some projects are going to look different coming out of those negotiations that we had expected going into the negotiations. But that’s exactly what negotiations are about.

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.

Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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