Cuthand: Modern-day treaty needed to end unrest

The party of Diefenbaker, Clarke and Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism.

Columnist Doug Cuthand

Columnist Doug Cuthand Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The crises around the pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory and the subsequent outpouring of support nationwide have isolated the Conservatives and placed them as the odd man out in the House of Commons.

On Tuesday, Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau’s speech was heckled by the Tories to the point that the speaker had to appeal for calm. When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke to rebut the prime minister’s comments, his speech was negative and clearly on the side of the pipeline developers. He called for the prime minister to end the pipeline protests and that the protesters should “check their privilege,” whatever that meant.

Meanwhile the other parties in the House including the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP and the Greens all supported the position that the government must proceed with dialogue and negotiations to settle the matter. They got together to discuss it further, but the Conservatives were not invited. It was obvious that Scheer would have nothing to offer and be a distraction.

The Conservatives’ position was clear: They wanted the government to take action to remove the blockades. While the Conservatives constantly refer to the rule of law, there is a long-standing practice in Canada that police forces are independent and not to be directed by politicians or a political party. To do otherwise would lead to a slippery slope toward a police state and totalitarianism.

Speaking of the rule of law, the Conservatives have ignored the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that most of British Columbia has never been ceded by treaty and the title remains with the First Nations. In this case, the rule of law is on the side of the Wet’suwet’en.

West of Edmonton, a group of vigilantes took it upon themselves to take down a blockade of a railway right of way. This drew a tweet from Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay, “Glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years.” This support for vigilantism was later taken down, but it is a reflection of the attitude that is prevalent in the Conservative camp.

Which leads me to ask, “What happened to the Conservatives?” The party of John Diefenbaker, Joe Clarke and Brian Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism. I doubt that those gentlemen would be welcome in today’s Conservative Party.

In the past, relations between the First Nations and the Conservative Party were usually positive. Mulroney supported the Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement for Saskatchewan which addressed a long-standing injustice over treaty land and was the largest land settlement in southern Canada.

In 1962, Diefenbaker extended voting rights to First Nations. His minister of Indian Affairs was Helen Fairclough who was Canada’s first female cabinet minister. Many First Nations voters, particularly in Saskatchewan, were Conservative party supporters.

Things changed for the worst in the 1980s and ’90s when the Reform Party came to prominence. It was a western-based party and its members discovered that attacking chiefs and First Nations was red meat to their base, so they pursued it. Rather than look at the potential of First Nations support, they chose to exploit us and our leadership.

The Reformers rebranded, and the Canadian Alliance united with the Progressive Conservatives. The Progressive was dropped, and the party became more like the old Reform Party. Gradually the Progressives or Red Tories were either forced out or left. The Conservatives are now a parochial right-wing party with roots in the West.

Canada is a nation that is built on the rule of law and common sense. Before a railway could be built across the new nation, the government had to make treaty with the First Nations of the plains. This process stopped in the mountains because the American settlers in British Columbia refused to see the need to deal fairly with the First Nations.

Today Canada is paying the price and the politicians and those in power know it. Now Canada must make a modern-day treaty that is fair to all sides or we will continue to have confrontation and unrest as the people defend their land against outside development. SOURCE