Politics

Jagmeet Singh apologizes to B.C. chiefs after 3 major party leaders miss annual meeting

Jagmeet Singh has apologized to the head of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations for not heeding a call to address the organization's annual meeting.

Regional chief says party leaders performing 'lip service' on Indigenous issues

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said he will develop stronger relationships with First Nations by treating those groups as equal partners to the federal government. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Jagmeet Singh has apologized to the head of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations for not heeding a call to address the organization's annual meeting.

"That was a mistake, and I take responsibility," the NDP leader said during a campaign stop in Toronto.

"That should have never happened."

Regional Chief Terry Teegee said that leaders of the three major federal parties were invited to appear digitally to address chiefs at the two-day meeting this week. A lack of response puts their commitment to true and lasting reconciliation in question, he said.

"It definitely speaks to how they prioritized Indigenous issues, and, quite frankly, we are not a priority anymore," he said.

Teegee said while all the leaders spoke about Indigenous issues during last week's debate, their refusal to take part in the meeting shows it is a "great deal of lip service."

Teegee said he has not talked to Singh about the apology.

The B.C. Assembly of First Nations represents all 204 First Nations in the province.

"Grand chief, my apologies," Singh said. "I'm going to make sure we get this right."

The assembly said in a news release that while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was actually in Vancouver during the meeting, even he would not agree to "spend a few minutes" with B.C. First Nations leadership.

Liberals, Conservatives sent representatives to meeting

Trudeau said at a campaign stop in Richmond, B.C., that one of the Liberals' "extraordinary" Indigenous candidates attended the meeting. He said his party has demonstrated real results on reconciliation and has seen a record number of Indigenous candidates run under its banner.

"Indigenous Peoples are facing a really important choice in this election like all Canadians. They need to make sure we continue to move forward on the work that we've done," he said, including lifting more boil-water advisories.

"We're continuing to step up in every different area to fight for a better future, better opportunities and proper reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in this country."

A spokesman for Erin O'Toole said that, while the Conservative leader was unable to attend because of campaign scheduling, Kelsey Shein, Conservative candidate for Burnaby North–Seymour, represented the party at the meeting.

Terry Teegee, regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, said the failure of leaders to attend the meeting indicates that Indigenous people 'are not a priority anymore.' (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"For too long, Indigenous peoples have been waiting for the Liberal government to deliver on their empty promises. A Conservative government led by Erin O'Toole is committed to taking meaningful action in the early days of our mandate to implement TRC Calls to Action 71 through 76, and will work collaboratively with Indigenous partners on the path toward reconciliation," Mathew Clancy said in a statement.

Singh has positioned himself as an ally to Indigenous voters. He was the first leader to campaign on a reserve and spent Monday in Neskantaga First Nation, a fly-in northern Ontario community with Canada's longest boil-water advisory.

The NDP leader's campaign is now turning its sights toward sought-after seats in Ontario, including Toronto Centre.

NDP brings campaign to battleground Ontario

The New Democrats came in third there during a byelection prompted by Liberal Bill Morneau's resignation last year. It's also being sought by Green Party Leader Annamie Paul.

While reiterating a commitment to lowering cellphone and internet prices, Singh endured a heckler who yelled about the "new world order," communism and COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

Later, Singh was greeted by about 200 supporters chanting his name during a stop in Kitchener Centre. The New Democrats are hoping to win the seat after incumbent Liberal Raj Saini resigned earlier in the campaign following allegations that he had harassed a female staff member, allegations he firmly denies.

Following hundreds of selfies and social media videos, Singh's camp headed to Windsor–Tecumseh, a riding where he lived between the ages of seven and 23. The New Democrats had held the riding since 2000 until the Liberals got a thin win for the seat in the last election.

New polling suggests the Liberals and Conservatives both have the support of 32 per cent of decided voters in Canada. The NDP are in third with 20 per cent.

Singh has not answered questions about whether he'd support efforts by either party in a minority government and has instead kept his focus on Trudeau.

"(Canadians) can't afford another four more years of Trudeau," Singh said.

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