NDP MP Georgina Jolibois says she only learned the Liberals planned to support her private member’s bill to create a statutory holiday for reconciliation when she read about it in the news.
On Wednesday, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez told reporters the government has been discussing with the three major groups representing Indigenous Canadians about how best to move forward with a commitment it made to implement all of the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.
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He did not provide details on a timeline for that plan, including whether it could come before the next election, or possible dates for the new holiday.
An unnamed departmental source was later quoted by CBC News as saying the government planned to do so by supporting C-369, the private member’s bill put forward by the Saskatchewan MP, that is due to come up for second reading this fall.
But Jolibois said reading that report was the first she’d heard about that plan.
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“The prime minister has not reached out to me directly, his office,” she said.
“When I repeatedly asked the prime minister and cabinet ministers in June in the House, I did not get answers, specific answers from them.”
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While “one or two” individual Liberal MPs had told her they themselves would support her bill, others said the opposite.
“As of June and as of yesterday, the answer I was given frequently was ‘No, we’re not supporting it,'” she said.
A spokesperson for Rodriguez said the government has always been clear that it will support the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, one of which include creating a statutory holiday.
“The Prime Minister has said it many times: there is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples. That’s why in 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau committed to implementing all of the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” said Simon Ross, press secretary to the minister.
“Call to Action 80 asks the Government of Canada to establish a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour the survivors of Residential Schools and it has always been crystal clear that our Government would support it. Our Government will officially announce its support of the Private Member’s Bill at Second Reading during its next hour of debate.”
An official with the department of Canadian Heritage also said Liberal MP Arif Virani spoke with Jolibois in the summer of 2017 and on June 4 to stress the importance of consultating with Indigenous leaders before moving forward with her bill, which the official said she had not done.
Jolibois said she crafted the bill based on discussions with Indigenous elders and community members who felt June 21 would hold symbolic significance.
The official also said Jolibois had twice given up the second hour of debate allotted to her bill in December 2017 and June.
Confirmation the government planned to support her would have come sooner if that hadn’t been the case, the official said.
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C-369 was introduced in the House of Commons in 2017.
It seeks to make June 21, which is National Indigenous Peoples Day, a statutory holiday.
Transcripts from the House of Commons show Jolibois asked Trudeau directly on June 20 during question period whether his government would support her bill.
“Will the Liberals support my bill and make National Indigenous Peoples Day a statutory holiday?” she asked.
Trudeau responded but did not give an answer.
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“We look forward to having more to say soon on this issue.”
The day prior, Jolibois had also asked the same question about her bill — which proposes making June 21 a statutory holiday — and received no answer.
Instead, Crown-Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott encouraged people to go enjoy the upcoming National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations.
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Jolibois says her bill is due for another hour of debate in the House of Commons in September, with a vote expected sometime around Christmas.
But she says she has too many unanswered questions right now to be optimistic — among them, whether the government plans to campaign on the pledge to create a statutory holiday if she refuses to amend her bill to fit with whatever feedback they want to implement from consultations.
“I am very concerned for that reason. Like I said in June, before the House finished, I repeatedly asked him and his government, will he support my private member’s bill? The timing of him bringing this forward makes me have more questions than be hopeful about it and I’m concerned that he’s playing politics with this,” she said.
Rodriguez said discussions are still underway over which date to make the new statutory holiday.
Reports suggest the two being considered are June 21 and Sept. 30, which is Orange Shirt Day and specifically marks the dark legacy of residential schools.
That’s led to questions over whether the government might seek an amendment to Jolibois’ private member’s bill if it decides against setting the date on June 21, which she says was chosen for its significance as both National Indigenous Peoples Day and as the summer solstice — a symbolic marking of the change between seasons that is especially relevant to the changes taking place through reconciliation.
Because of that, she says she won’t budge on the date.
“I’m not making amendments to it.”