Scheer, Bernier only 2 in debate who wouldn't back UN Indigenous rights declaration

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who is the only party leader pitching a new large energy project as part of his platform, doubled down on his opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during the federal election debate Monday evening. 

NDP, Green Party leaders attack Trudeau, Scheer over child welfare compensation tribunal ruling

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier exchange ideas during the federal leaders debate in Gatineau, Que. on Monday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, who is the only party leader pitching a large, new energy project as part of his platform, doubled down on his opposition to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during the federal election debate Monday evening. 

Scheer said he would focus on consulting Indigenous communities before building his proposed national energy corridor, but he would not be guided by UNDRIP — an international document that sets minimum standards for nation states' interaction with Indigenous Peoples.

Scheer and People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier were the only party leaders who didn't express support for UNDRIP. Bernier didn't mention it at all.

The federal leaders' debate Monday evening had five sections, including one focused on Indigenous issues.

Federal leaders debate Indigenous issues

4 years ago
Duration 20:39
Featured VideoThe six federal election candidates in Monday night's leaders' debate discussed their positions on UNDRIP, consultation on the Trans Mountain expansion and the recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling.

Natasha Beedie, from Beausoleil First Nation, asked the leaders how their parties would work with the provinces and territories to affirm Indigenous rights under UNDRIP, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action and the recent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry report's calls to justice.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer debate a point. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Scheer zeroed in on the UNDRIP clause around free, prior and informed consent — the same clause Conservative senators used to torpedo an NDP private member's bill to harmonize federal laws with the UN declaration. 

"When you talk about free, prior and informed consent that leaves a great deal of uncertainty about what that means and there are large numbers of Indigenous communities who want these energy projects to succeed," said Scheer, in an apparent reference to First Nations that support the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Court allowed appeals

The Federal Court of Appeal recently allowed appeals from six First Nations over consultation around the Trans Mountain expansion.

Scheer is proposing to build an energy corridor to run pipelines, transmission lines and telecommunications infrastructure across the country.

Such a project would cross the territories of potentially dozens of First Nations. The failed Alberta-to-New Brunswick Energy East pipeline crossed the territories of over 50 First Nations. 

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau accused Scheer of employing the same approach as former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who faced an Indigenous rights movement called Idle No More that flared across the country during his last term in office.  

"We all remember 10 years of Stephen Harper who did not respect Indigenous rights, who did not respect Indigenous Peoples," said Trudeau. 

"Mr. Scheer you are putting forward exactly the same plan."

Green Party leader Elizabeth May. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Green Party leader Elizabeth May also took aim at Scheer's proposed approach to consultation, saying it was already required under Section 35 of the Constitution, which recognizes Indigenous rights.

"It does not boil down to, 'We will consult with Indigenous people until they agree with us,'" said May.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and May both raised the recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling ordering Ottawa to compensate First Nations children harmed by the on-reserve child welfare system.

Scheer, Trudeau agree

It's the one issue on which Trudeau and Scheer agree — the Liberal government recently filed a challenge in Federal Court against the ruling and Scheer has said he would have done the same.   

Singh, referring to the SNC-Lavalin affair, said that while Trudeau wanted to "keep SNC-Lavalin out of the courts" he is willing to "drag Indigenous kids" into the courtroom. 

"That is wrong. How can someone do that?"

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Trudeau said that a re-elected Liberal government would compensate children affected by the ruling, but he didn't say how. 

"We've also moved forward to end the tragedies by moving forward on legislation that keeps kids in care in their communities, with their language, with their culture," said Trudeau, in reference to Bill C-92, the Indigenous child welfare bill which passed before Parliament dissolved.

Scheer, who was on the defensive through the majority of the debate segment on Indigenous issues, suggested he was prepared to deal with the relationship between Canada and Indigenous people because of his experience with 12 First Nations in his own riding.

Balance treaty rights

"I understand the importance of balancing treaty rights and also the ability for Indigenous Canadians to participate in the economy. That is really the key," he said.

However, First Nations leaders in his riding have said Scheer did little to build a relationship with them.

Scheer also opened the debate by accusing Trudeau of wearing a "reconciliation mask" and then firing Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous attorney general, during the SNC-Lavalin affair. 

 "I have nothing to learn from Mr. Trudeau, who fired the first Indigenous attorney general for doing her job," he said later during the Indigenous issues portion of the debate. "She said she would do politics differently and you fired her when she did."

Trudeau responded by referring to Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, whose home community of Little Black Bear First Nation sits in Scheer's riding.

"Perry Bellegarde…has said that no government has done more for Indigenous Peoples than this government and he is one of your constituents," said Trudeau. 

"That's right, he comes from Little Black Bear," said Scheer. "He has my phone number."


Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's investigative unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him