Mission – Matsqui – Fraser Canyon candidates talk reconciliation

Candidates in the Mission - Matsqui - Fraser Canyon riding share their views on reconciliation in the Fraser Valley

By Tyler Olsen | September 17, 2021 |6:05 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 Mission – Matsqui – Fraser Canyon, we spoke to Green candidate Nicole Bellay, NDP candidate Lynn Perrin, and Conservative candidate Brad Vis. Liberal candidate Geet Grewal 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 Mission – Matsqui – Fraser Canyon to learn more about the election in that riding.

Green — Nicole Bellay

FVC: With the news about the discovery of the thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools, how did that affect your thinking personally about how Canada should address its past wrongs?

Bellay: I was really saddened by the news, of course, like every Canadian. I think it really hit us. It was more in our face. But in the last two years, our local association with the Greens, we’ve been working with some Indigenous people to understand decolonization and our white privilege and all that stuff. So we’ve been unpacking, so it was not that surprising that that story came out… It upset me tremendously, of course, because we have a residential school in Mission here. And I wanted to reach out and it’s really hard reaching out during COVID. But we did contact some people and we’re trying to make the first steps for a meaningful connection with First Nations. But it takes time. We have many, many bands in our riding. I can tell you personally, I delivered some flowers and cards actually to some of the bands, because I wanted to make that first step.

FVC: Should federal Crown lands on traditional territory of Indigenous peoples be turned back over to those peoples when that land? At anytime, but especially when that land is up for development?

Bellay: I think that we need discussion. I don’t want to say what’s needed because I think all the solutions should be by Indigenous and for Indigenous people, so it has to be something decided with them, by them. So I don’t want to say something that I’m not in a position for deciding that.

FVC: Right. But doesn’t that kind of let all of us people who aren’t Indigenous off the hook in suggesting ways that our government can address the things it needs to do? Because if we just put on Indigenous people that they need to come up with all the solutions, isn’t that a lot to ask them?

Bellay: Right, We can’t just say it’s in their hands. But we have to adopt, first of all, the UNDRIP. So this is the 46 recommendations of UNDRIP as a law, which hasn’t been passed, of course, by the Liberals. [Editor’s note: UNDRIP legislation was passed in June.] And also we have to adopt the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 94 recommendations. Not too many recommendations have been adopted. So with that in mind, you know, it’s not like every little band has to come up and say, ‘I want this,’ because it’s not going to work like that. But making sure that we’re approaching them and that the solutions are found through them.

FVC: Should consent from Indigenous people be necessary for the approval of large infrastructure projects on their traditional territories?

Bellay: Yes, I do believe.

FVC: So how does the Green Party envision determining that consent? Because there’s a lot of disagreement over how you determine that consent. We see that on Vancouver Island.

Bellay: It’s a complicated story. Like the story of the Fairy Creek for example, with the Pacheedaht. So the Pacheedaht signed a contract with the BC government, and they can’t talk about that contract. And now we’re seeing they can’t say they agree or don’t agree with the logging. With the rules that are existing now, it’s really hard for Indigenous people to really come up front and say… because they’re, of course, in a really hard situation financially, because of all the wealth inequality. So they need that money. And right now there’s no choice. It’s either they log or they don’t have any money. We didn’t give them another choice. So we have to have meaningful consultation with them.

FVC: Finally, what happens when the results of a consultation process and the views you hear from Indigenous people about a certain project or proposal conflict with the policies or ideas of your own party? How would you wrestle with that?

Bellay: You have to respect their decision.

FVC: So respecting that decision, you feel, should take precedence over Green Party policy?

Bellay: Yes, and that’s my personal opinion. I’m not speaking for the party here. But yes, that’s personal.

Story continues below.

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NDP — Lynn Perrin

FVC: How did the news about the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves that residential schools affect your thinking about what Canada needs to do to address its past wrongs?

Perrin: The issue of residential schools, the impact of them and, and the victims and their families has been an issue that has literally brought me to tears for years and years. I have family who’s Indigenous, I have really, really close friends who are Indigenous. And so when I hear about this, the victims, and what’s happened lately, with the unmarked graves, it really touches me very, very closely. I was relieved when there was the apology that the Harper government made, at the urging of Jack Layton. But it’s an empty apology. Through my work on the Trans Mountain expansion opposition, I have interacted with many, many, many First Nations throughout BC, and there’s a serious lack of respect for them as human beings. But also, there seems to be a serious lack of respect regarding our Constitution, Section 35, and treaties, and the fact that in fact, in BC, all of the land that has been taken from Indigenous people is unceded. They’ve never given it up, except for three small treaties, and of course, the Nisga’a Treaty, the modern treaty, and the Tsawwassen.

But other than that, almost the entire province is unceded, and court case after court case tells the government that you’ve got to address this. When First Nations people up in Blue River are getting arrested trying to protect their traditional gathering, their food, their traditional food places and getting bullied by the Trans Mountain contractors and the RCMP, I have some really serious concerns about whether we’re meeting our constitutional obligations. And by the way, that’s not just the government. That’s us Canadians. Those are our obligations. Pretty soon, we’re going to hear about what happened at St. Mary’s over in Mission. And they are going to be using that special radar to go on the residential school grounds including Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission. I was actually at a burning ceremony there shortly after the 250 unmarked graves were discovered at Kamloops. And I cannot imagine the pain that the families of those children are going through. It’s painful for me. I cannot imagine the pain they’re going through. First of all, we’ve got to bring those children home, as best we can. Secondly, we’ve got to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We have got to do that.

Twice now I’ve been part of the walk for reconciliation that takes place over four days. It starts at Fort Langley, ends at Fraser River Heritage Park. And I’ve taken place the last day and so you walk from Matsqui Trail over to Fraser River Heritage Park. The first time I did it, there were two men in their 60s who went to St. Mary’s in Mission. And they shared with us what it was like to be a five-year-old coming to that school for the very first time, and how it was 10 or 12 years of terror for them. As a grandparent, I’m really close to my grandson, and I just can’t imagine what it would be like for my darling five-year-old grandson to be taken away from me, our family.

I was a mature student at UFV and SFU and I took a sociology course, it was called Sociology of the Family. And I worked with four other people, we had an assignment, and a couple of them were Stó:lō. And so we did the Stó:lō family. That’s what we studied. And the grandparents are the ones who are responsible to educate the children. That’s their role in the Stó:lō culture. So, it’s not just the children, it’s their parents, it’s their grandparents, it’s the whole community. There’s a song out there, and I could share it with you. It’s by an Indigenous woman called [unclear]. And the song is called ‘Eighth Wonder.’ And these survivors are the Eighth Wonder. They really are. What their families have gone through and the inter-generational trauma and how they are coming out of it. It’s the eighth wonder.

FVC: Should federal Crown land on traditional territory of Indigenous peoples be turned back over to those people?

Perrin: I don’t think it’s possible to turn back all of it but, yes, definitely, some of that should be there. I remember in the late ’80s and early ’90s, talking to the chief of the Matsqui Reserve and them saying there was a crowding issue then. They’re desperate for housing. During COVID, there were 10 or more people living in Indigenous housing on reserve. You can’t fight a pandemic when you have that kind of living situation. The Squamish just got a bunch of land in Vancouver and they’re going to be turning some of that into market housing. And the Sem:ath here in Abbotsford where the MSA hospital was. [Editor’s note: Matsqui First Nation is the First Nation that has received the land back.] So it can be done. A lot of it is just the desire by government to do it.

FVC: Your party says in the platform that consent from Indigenous communities should be necessary for the approval of projects. But determining that consent can be tricky. What needs to be done to put processes in place to ensure that consultation processes have legitimacy that’s respected by everyone?

Perrin: First of all, as soon as an idea comes to mind, that’s when to start collaborating. Consultation is somebody saying ‘This is my idea. Do you agree to it?’ I think that there would be a lot more success if it was our idea right from the outset. And by that I mean, our Indigenous people and others. The ones who are wanting to do the development. That is what is called for, if you look at what consultation calls for, and what the courts have said: it’s at the very outset of other development. And that has not happened whatsoever. So that really needs to happen. Don’t forget, Indigenous people have been here on the ground for 10,000 years. They know the lay of the land, literally. The Trans Mountain project, that’s one thing I’ve noticed, even as a settler, a person who’s lived in this territory for what would it be 45 years in the Abbotsford/Matsqui/Fraser Valley area, even I knew the lay of the land better than the Trans Mountain engineers or contractors. With any project, whatever the project is, you cannot do these desktop exercises, and then present them to Indigenous people for their approval. It’s way too late.

FVC: Related to that, because we see it frequently, what happens if and when the views of First Nations or Indigenous people conflict with your own party or government’s policies or promises? How do you process that into decision-making?

Perrin: Personally, and I would hope that as an MP I would have some influence in this, is that you have really got to respect the decision of the nation. Like I said before, I’ve had very, very close relationships with Indigenous people. And I’ve been an observer of their decision-making process, and they do not make rash decisions. They are very multifaceted decisions. And they involve a lot of people, and they look at a lot of impacts. So we non-Indigenous really have got to respect that, and be patient. And in the end, that will be better for all of us, and it’ll make a better decision.

Story continues below.

We’re bringing independent, local-first, in-depth reporting to serve you and our community.

Subscribe for free and plug in to the news that matters in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission, and the rest of the Fraser Valley.

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Having trouble with the form? Contact us at contact@fvcurrent.com.

Conservative — Brad Vis

FVC: How did the discovery of the unmarked graves affect your thinking on what Canada has to do to address its past wrongs?

Vis: I was in Heritage Park a few days after the discovery and I was talking to a number of survivors who I saw in Heritage Park… and I asked them, ‘I’m going to be speaking on this in a few days in Parliament, but I don’t really have the words that I need to articulate what actually happened, so can I have your words to share in Parliament?’ And they told me that the discovery of the unmarked graves in Kamloops brought up a lot of trauma that they didn’t even know they still were struggling with. And it brought up a lot of past pain. And they said that there needs to be more focus on job training and to make sure that there’s sufficient trauma counseling as well to help people overcome this so they can be productive with employment and taking care of their families. And they said that there needs to be more emphasis especially on training for male survivors. And this came from a woman: that we need to have more supports in place and adequate funding for counseling and trauma support, especially, and helping people live more productive lives. And they said you need to share that message in Parliament. And I did, it’s on the record.

So that, like for a lot of Canadians, was an eye-opener for me, when I heard what happened, and that this was still taking place in Mission. And that’s why I moved really quickly to put forward petitions in Parliament right away. As you know, there was a march at St. Mary’s front with survivors and supporters and other Indigenous people from some of the surrounding First Nations and they asked me to bring forward a petition to Parliament calling upon the Government of Canada to move immediately on funding the archaeological work at St. Mary’s to find out where those graves were and make sure that those people were given the honor and treatments that they deserved. And then to fund more services for counseling and trauma support. My constituents moved me to act very quickly and I did and we as the Conservative Party, I think across the board, were calling on the government to move really quickly with recommendation 71 to 76 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

FVC: I wanted to ask about those calls to action, because your platform doesn’t really talk about any of the other calls to action within the TRC report. Are you committing to also undertake all those other federal calls to action that are in that report?

Vis: You know what, I think that the one thing my Indigenous constituents said to me that all of the calls to action are not just related to government, they’re related to our broader society in Canada, but I am stating that I am committed to upholding the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Report. But, in the immediacy of what was happening there, we needed to act quickly. And we still need to get that done, because it hasn’t gotten done so let’s get 71 to 76 taken care of right away.

FVC: Is that your party’s policy too?

Vis: Yeah it is. We’re committed to fulfilling the Truth and Reconciliation reports. Yeah.

FVC: I also want to ask you about how your party platform talks a lot about allowing Indigenous people in First Nations to take part in, in economic opportunities and resource projects. What happens when you hear from those communities that they don’t want those projects to proceed? How do you process that feedback and incorporate that into your own policies and decision making processes?

Vis: Right. Well, we’re kind of living through that right now with the Trans Mountain Pipeline, because I have Cheam First Nation and Sema:th First Nation in Abbotsford and Sts’ailes who’ve benefited from some of it and I would say some of the other Stó:lō nations as well on the lower Fraser who have taken an active role in the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. And then I have other Indigenous First Nations up in the Fraser Canyon who are adamantly opposed to it.

FVC: As is Sema:th.

Vis: Sema:th Frst Nation is opposed to it… yes, and then you have other Stó:lō nations who are absolutely in favour of it, because of the economic and job creation. So part of it has to be that First Nations between themselves have to work out policies, but I think that there’s a role for government and the courts to be playing in more in First Nations leadership, I would say, especially in working out where there’s competing rights and interests, and how those are worked out. That’s not an easy thing to solve and there is going to be many more disagreements between First Nations when it comes to that, but ultimately, I think that what I have seen, especially in the last decade, is a lot of the First Nations stepping forward and demanding economic growth, and they want to lead it themselves. And I don’t want to get in the way of the nation-to-nation relationships between First Nations when they work out some of those those issues between their respective bodies.

FVC: Right. But what happens when you hear from the majority of First Nation people or Indigenous people in your riding or across the country, and that they’re opposed to something that that the party or your government thinks is in the national interest?

Vis: Yeah, that’s a hypothetical. But the courts have made it clear that now there are consultation processes that must be adhered to on major resource development projects. And the Conservative Party is committed to working out what those consultations mean because the courts have said it has to happen. But we haven’t operationalized those things yet. And we need better processes and timetables for any resource development in Canada. And First Nations absolutely have to be at the table. I have said to anyone that wants to do a major project in the Fraser Valley, or Fraser Canyon now: ‘If you’re not working with the local First Nation, and the surrounding communities you’re already losing.’ We have to partner and work alongside our First Nations brothers and sisters when we do resource development. And there’s a lot of varying positions within the local First Nations on how and what to do. And that’s where we need to refine our processes to make sure that every voice is heard.

FVC: Right. And that’s the question I’m asking people: whether consent should be necessary for the approval of these projects? And then what do you do to put in processes?

Vis: Yeah. That’s the million and sometimes billion dollar question: whose consent when there’s overlapping territory and land rights? And that’s why I said we need to work out what those processes are and to work towards clarifying the rights of First Nations as they’ve been upheld by the Supreme Court.

After the formal interview concluded, Vis added:

Vis: What I heard more about in Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon was getting the federal government out of the way as it relates to Indigenous housing. Through the Fraser Canyon, and on the lower Fraser, many of the First Nations that I represent do not have adequate housing. And I made sure that local voices were heard in Parliament when I participated in a housing study on urban, rural and northern Indigenous housing. And from that report, it became clear to me that one of the best ways for the Conservative Party to advance reconciliation was to implement and make a commitment to for-Indigenous and by-Indigenous housing.

And you might know her, but Margaret Pfoh, the executive director of the Aboriginal Housing Management Association, who lives in Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, said that she had never been more disappointed with the Liberal government [than] after the two-year budget, when they didn’t put forward a commitment to do what they had initially promised when the National Housing Strategy was implemented. And so one of the big problems that we’re facing with housing that we didn’t talk about, we talked about first-time homebuyers, but we didn’t talk about the National Housing Strategy. And the Parliamentary Budget Officer came out with two very, very important reports this year. One was just in August, and the other one was in the spring. The first one in the spring found that Indigenous housing was underfunded by the tune of $636 million a year in Canada. So there’s an affordability aspect, but there’s also a dignity aspect. And you talk to some of the locals like Chief Leon from Sts’ailes First Nation, [who] came to committee with me. And they’re saying, ’Why do I have to go to the federal government every time I want to get a roof fixed or something? Why can’t we have control over our own assets on reserve?’ And some of the bureaucratic systems holding people back from adequate housing are outrageous in the 21st century. And we need to move forward and give more autonomy to Indigenous people.

The second thing in the second report, the PBO found that despite a $70 billion in funding commitments to address the affordability crisis in Canada, only half the money that they promised to get out the door has gotten out of the door. And so when I’m in Mission here, and our homeless count tripled between counts, and Mission’s not getting money for addressing Aboriginal housing, or some of the broader issues with mental health and addictions, I’m ticked off that we have money allocated and the communities that need it are not getting it.

So my commitment, as the housing critic for the Conservative Party, is to do what the Liberals didn’t. And that’s to get money out the door to support the needed projects across Canada. And there’s broad unanimity across Canada that we need to get that money out the door. And I’ve heard it loud and clear that the processes by the Liberals were so overburdened with red tape, that it prevented many projects from getting built. And that’s one of our commitments on housing in our platform is to empower First Nations to have autonomy over their own unique housing needs and I represent a lot of different First Nations with different cultures, but they all want the same thing in that respect. And that’s to get more housing built. And that’s my commitment as a local MP and my own quest to help First Nations and reconcile with them is to help them have more autonomy over housing and not have to report to a bureaucrat in Ottawa.

FVC: That reminds me of one other question I had meant to ask, and I didn’t: should federal Crown lands on traditional territory of Indigenous peoples start to be turned over back to those people?

Vis: In some cases, we’ve already seen that. And that’s a good point. Let’s use federal Crown land to build housing that people needs and absolutely do that for Indigenous people too. And we have a commitment to make stock of our federal Crown lands and to use that for housing so Indigenous people absolutely need to be a part of that process and be getting some of those lands.

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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