Unreserved

Why 'fed up' MP Romeo Saganash dropped the F-bomb in the House of Commons

The Cree MP, who accused the prime minister of not caring about the rights of Indigenous people, talked to Unreserved about standing up and speaking out in Parliament.
NDP MP Romeo Saganash was sanctioned by Speaker Geoff Regan in the House of Commons in September after using unparliamentary language. (CBC)

Last month veteran NDP MP Romeo Saganash stood up during question period and used unparliamentary language to slam the Liberal government for its handling of the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

Saganash, a First Nations NDP MP from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not caring about the rights of Indigenous peoples after the Federal Court quashed approval of the contentious Trans Mountain expansion project.

I've been watching this government over the last three years. And at times it's exasperating. And I was fed up.- Romeo Saganash

"Why doesn't the prime minister just say the truth and tell Indigenous peoples that he doesn't give a f--k about their rights?" Saganash asked the House.

Saganash later apologized and withdrew the word.

Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild spoke with Saganash about standing up and speaking out in the House of Commons. Here is part of that conversation.

I want you to take me back to that moment. What were you thinking about right before you stood up?

I've been watching this government over the last three years. And at times it's exasperating. And I was fed up.

That morning when I got up, that's really how I felt.

I had to show to my seat mates …  two ladies that I respect very much: Tracey Ramsey [NDP MP for Essex] and Sheila [Malcolmson, NDP MP for Nanaimo—Ladysmith]. I showed my question to them just to apologize in advance to them — to them at least — but no one else knew.

Video: NDP MP Romeo Saganash swears during question period.

Romeo Sagansh swears during QP

Politics

3 years ago
2:05
The Quebec NDP MP was questioning the government on the Trans Mountain pipeline 2:05

You said you were exasperated — you were frustrated. Was there something specific that pushed you to that point?

It's about everything — the way they do things. They're all talk and no action.

They use words like "engagement," "dialogue" but not necessarily "consultation" from a constitutional standpoint.

If you take it from a constitutional standpoint then that duty and constitutional obligation to consult in accommodating Indigenous peoples and their rights — you cannot make that decision — say this pipeline is going to be built no matter what, and on the other hand, claim to be consulting Indigenous peoples.

It doesn't work that way.

This is not the first time, of course, that you have done something a little unexpected in the House. On June 2017 on National Indigenous Peoples Day, you stood in the House and asked the prime minister this question.

Video: NDP MP Romeo Saganash asks the PM a question in Cree.

Saganash asks the PM a question in Cree

Politics

4 years ago
1:21
NDP MP Romeo Saganash asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a question in Cree during Prime Minister's Question Period 1:21

Can you can share what you asked?

That was related to where his office was housed. As I said in Cree … his office, which was Langevin Block [was changed in name] … to the Prime Minister and the Privy Council Office.

Has he spoken to the Algonquin people or the Anishinaabe? Has he spoken to the family that used to live, hunt, gather fish on Parliament Hill?

Ask the Algonquins ... any suggestions that they would have [for changing the name of Langevin Block].

It's also not the first time you've spoken Cree. Why is it important for you to stand and speak out?

It's important for me because it's the only language I spoke until I was seven years old — until I was sent to residential school.

I think institutions — if we're serious about reconciliation, if we're serious about decolonization in this country — well, we have to start in places like the Parliament of Canada.

I think I have a constitutional right to speak my language in this place.- Romeo Saganash

So when I got elected in 2011 the first time, that was the first question I asked the clerk of the House of Commons.

I went up to her and asked if I could do my speeches in Cree — if I could ask my questions in Cree.

And the answer was, "No."

And I was told, "Well you surely know that the two official languages in this place are English and French."

I said of course, but I think I have a constitutional right to speak my language in this place.

You mentioned that you're not running again — that there are so few Indigenous politicians at the level that you are. Do you feel that that puts extra pressure on you to speak out?

I think one of the objectives I had … was when I decided to show other people that you can affect change from within these institutions.

You know I've battled governments from outside the walls of Parliament and in the National Assembly in Quebec.

With that eight years of experience from within the walls I can see the change that I can bring to these places ...

I believe that in the next election, there'll be even more Indigenous candidates. We had about 60 in the last election in 2015. I think some 10 got elected, and I think it's going to be more the next time.

Q&A edited for length and clarity. For more, listen to our interview with Romeo Saganash.

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