Green Party candidate Paul Manly

Green Party candidate Paul Manly

Election 2015: Candidates debate First Nations issues

For the first time in Nanaimo, local federal election candidates got together at the same table for an all-candidates' meeting.

There was spirited debate, some disagreement and even a Justin Bieber reference. For the first time in Nanaimo, local federal election candidates got together at the same table for an all-candidates’ meeting.

The Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre and the Mid-Island Métis Nation Association hosted the candidates from the four main parties Monday evening at the Nanaimo Association for Community Living building downtown. The theme of the meeting was aboriginal issues, and there was plenty of discussion around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report.

“I believe that reconciliation is not an aboriginal issue, it is a Canadian issue and it goes back for too many generations…” said Tim Tessier, Liberal candidate. “I affirm our unwavering support for all of the TRC’s recommendations.”

Sheila Malcolmson, NDP candidate, said she heard brave commission testimony in Vancouver and said “the reconciliation process is the imperative of Canada’s time … The New Democrat commitment is to implement in consultation with the indigenous leadership – so you tell us what’s most important.”

There are immediate actions that an NDP government could take, though, she added, such as calling an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, creating a national centre on truth and reconciliation, and signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“It’s an international embarrassment we haven’t done it already,” Malcolmson said.

Paul Manly, Green Party candidate, said he attended truth and reconciliation hearings in Duncan. A federal government can’t move on all 94 recommendations, he said.

“But we have jurisdiction over key areas – making sure that the child welfare system is fixed in this country. It is abysmal,” he said.

He mentioned equal opportunities within the education system are important, as well as bringing back and encouraging First Nations languages and cultures.

Mark MacDonald, Conservative candidate, pointed out that it was the current government that acted to create the commission.

“Prime Minister Harper was the very first prime minister to stand up publicly and apologize to First Nations people…” he said. “These are horrific stories that have gone on in residential schools, heart-wrenching, and there needs to be a time of healing and that will come. It starts when the conversation gets out.”

The candidates also talked about equality in education for First Nations and non-First Nations. Manly mentioned the Green Party’s promise to abolish post-secondary tuition fees.

“We are going to start with those who are most in need – people who live in poverty, people with disabilities, First Nations, other people that are marginalized in society who want an advanced education,” he said. “I know I’m going to be [asked], ‘How are you going to pay for this?’ We are going to charge a proper royalty rate for the resources that are extracted on the traditional territory of the people of this country.”

MacDonald was next to speak, replying, “It’s always interesting to listen to fantasy financing.”

Another noteworthy exchange came during a discussion of a Supreme Court of Canada case on the rights of Métis and non-status aboriginal people.

“I think the prime minister … looks at issues and he examines them before making a decision,” said MacDonald. “He’s not like Justin Bieber, I mean, sorry, Trudeau, with making rash comments about ‘we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.'”

The joke drew boos from those in attendance.

“There has been a tactic that’s been going on, and shame on us as a country. It’s called bullying,” said Tessier. “And I heard it tonight.”

For the final question of the night, the candidates were asked their personal experiences working on First Nations issues.

“Because of the rules of engagement that our hosts asked us to [adhere to] tonight, I am refraining from making any comments about the record of my colleague to the right,” said Malcolmson, referring to MacDonald. “But I’d love to talk with you about it afterwards.”

An all-candidates’ meeting on social justice issues is scheduled for Tuesday (Oct. 6) at 7 p.m. at the Beban Park Social Centre. That meeting is co-hosted by the local chapter of the Canadian Federation of University Women and the First Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo.

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