All of Canada’s major party leaders have identified reconciliation as a top priority, yet in the final debate of the election campaign, violence against Indigenous women and girls received little airtime.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh were asked in Thursday night’s debate how they would address the crisis.
After brief responses to the question from Paul and Trudeau, Singh and Trudeau sparred over the New Democrats’ claim that Trudeau is taking “Indigenous kids to court” for the majority of the three minutes ultimately permitted for the topic.
Moderator Shachi Kurl urged Trudeau and Singh to stay on track and allowed the question to run into overtime to facilitate better responses.
Paul said the back-and-forth was a clear example of why Indigenous leadership — particularly the leadership of Indigenous women — is needed at the federal level.
“This is why we need more diversity in politics, this is why we need people who are most directly impacted by issues to be able to speak for themselves, because we are drifting off into things,” said Paul.
Paul emphasized in her first response to the question that Indigenous women have laid out a path forward through the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), but the “political will” to implement its 231 Calls to Justice is currently lacking.
Trudeau said his government helped bring the truth to light about the crisis when it called the inquiry after the 2015 federal election. His commitment, he added, is evidenced by the full-funded plan for implementing the inquiry’s recommendations.
“It will take a lot of work by all of us but we are walking this road in partnership because we know it needs to be done and there is much more to do,” said Trudeau.
Indigenous women, however, have widely criticized the Liberal leader for failing to take any meaningful action on the MMIWG Inquiry’s final report in the two years since it was released. The Native Women’s Association of Canada has called Ottawa’s action plan process “toxic” and “dysfunctional,” and released its own plan for implementing the 231 Calls to Justice.
Singh said an NDP government would implement all the Calls to Justice and make sure Indigenous women and girls are safe by following the steps laid out by the National Inquiry.
Reconciliation was one of five themes identified for Thursday night’s debate — the last of the federal election campaign and the only debate scheduled in the English language.
Party leaders including Erin O’Toole of the Conservatives and Yves-François Blanchet of the Bloc Quebecois also discussed their plans to end boil water advisories across the country, and restore trust with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
O’Toole said residential schools, and Canada’s legacy of treatment of Indigenous people, is “the biggest scar in the history of Canada.”
No new promises were made by any of the federal parties on Thursday, but in Wednesday’s French language debate, the Greens, New Democrats and the Bloc all committed to giving Indigenous languages official status in Canada, next to English and French.