Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection candidate Michelle Corfield walk along Nanaimo’s harbourfront walkway on March 25. (File photo)

Nanaimo-Ladysmith Liberal candidate Michelle Corfield speaks on Indigenous issues

Corfield pledges to be a receptive partner in parliament for local First Nations

Nanaimo-Ladysmith Liberal candidate Dr. Michelle Corfield is no stranger to working with Indigenous communities. She has devoted decades of her life to working with First Nations on Vancouver Island, and now she hopes to represent Nanaimo-Ladysmith in Ottawa.

Currently, the Liberal government is under fire for their decision to seek judicial review on a ruling by the Canada Human Rights Tribunal which said the government willfully and recklessly harmed Indigenous children. The tribunal ordered the government to pay $40,00 in reparations to each child apprehended or taken from their homes on reserves.

RELATED: Feds fight ruling on compensation for failures in First Nations child services

Corfield said she stands by that decision.

“That decision came down three days before the writ was dropped. A government cannot actually function as a government during the writ period. So, they can’t do any of the background work, or take part in that. That’s the biggest impact right now,” she said. “This judicial review is enabling work to be done while we’re in a writ period.”

Corfield said that the Liberals aren’t denying that Indigenous children need to be compensated, but that the government needs time to review the decision. She said that in four years the Liberal government has concluded more outstanding issues than any other government.

However, in her new book, Jody Wilson-Raybould said that the Liberal government lost an opportunity to bring meaningful change for Indigenous people over the past four years. Wilson-Raybould said that the Liberal government has made only incremental shifts, rather than transforming the status quo.

RELATED: Jody Wilson Raybould’s book on reconciliation to be released Sept. 20

Corfield disagrees with Wilson-Raybould’s account of the Liberal’s record.

“That’s her perspective. However, when an ITA [Incremental Treat Agreement] is signed with a nation and that chief is crying in joy to actually have an agreement, when nations are standing up and are proud to have these agreements, nobody can take that away. Nobody can say Canada failed. That is a part of reconciliation, and nobody has a right to say whether it was done right or wrong, because it’s for that group,” Corfield said.

Corfield said she isn’t worried by Wilson-Raybould’s experiences in government. She said her experience with the Liberals is that she’s been well received, and that she’s had meaningful discussions with Liberal ministers on a weekly basis.

The Liberals recently made a campaign promise that they will work with First Nations to end all longstanding boil water advisories by 2021. Over the past four years, the Liberals have worked to eliminate 87 water advisories. Only 56 remain.

Corfield said that the Liberal government will also help build capacity in those communities to maintain the infrastructure.

“That’s a major part of the platform — education and skills training. You can’t have a water treatment centre without water operators. They have to be skilled, and they have to be knowledgable… You have to ensure you have the right people at the right time managing it,” Corfield said.

Corfield said that nations in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith area benefit from their proximity to urban areas. Snuneymuxw, Stz’uminus, and Sna-naw-as are nearby educational institutions, and have access to the Nanaimo General Regional Hospital.

Not all nations are located near urban centres. Corfield said the Liberal government will work to provide improved internet access to more remote nations, which will in turn improve the quality of educational programs on reserve.

She also said that nations need to transition away from diesel as an energy source. Diesel power is the norm in many remote nations. Corfield said nations will need to be “very innovative” to meet energy demand.

Corfield said the Liberals would be a supportive partner in projects like solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy projects. She was firm in saying there is no “magic bullet” solution for all nations. What works for one nation may not work for another.

The fact that nations have unique and varied needs is something Corfield hit on again when it came to Green Party leader Elizabeth May’s comments on dismantling the Indian Act.

“You have nations that want to get out, and you have nations that want to stay. They’re not ever going to meet in the middle. What I would say is that there’s enough processes to meet everyone’s needs… Nobody should ever be saying what they think they should do and impose it on someone else. Saying they want to get rid of the Indian Act is very paternalistic,” Corfield said

On that note of not imposing something on someone else, the Liberals have faced criticism for not meeting their duty to consult First Nations along the path of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Corfield blamed the Stephen Harper government’s consultation process, and said the Conservatives were responsible.

However, six challenges on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that focus on Indigenous consultation were accepted to proceed with the Federal Court of Appeals. Those challenges focus specifically on the federal government’s consultations with Indigenous communities between August 2018 and June 2019.

Despite this, Corfield said she supports Trans Mountain project, and believes it will be developed.

“This pipeline is 70 years old. Would you rather have everybody use it until it’s 90 years old and has no technology left in it? Or would you rather have something that has brand new technology and is safe?”

RELATED: Trans Mountain bid could be ready next week, Indigenous group says

She also said that three Indigenous groups are looking to purchase portions of the pipeline. Corfield said she couldn’t speak to what options were available for moving forward on the project if First Nations on the pipeline’s path remain opposed to the project.

Overall, Corfield said that Snuneymuxw, Stz’uminus, and Snaw-naw-as can expect a receptive partner in government if she is elected.

“I’d work hard to advance their issues, to make sure their agreements are being negotiated in a fair and equitable way, that they’re getting to the tables they need to get to, and that they have the right connections,” Corfield said.

“It’s about having conversations with the constituents to see what they need at what time. It’s not up to me to say ‘I’m going to do this’ if that’s not what they want me to do. It’s very much about listening, and helping when you need to help.”

RELATED: Nanaimo-Ladysmith NDP candidate, First Nations leaders talk environmental protection

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