At Thursday’s federal leaders debate, in the segment entitled "reconciliation," APTN host Melissa Ridgen asked Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau why Canadians should give his party a third term when his government has doubled the bureaucracy of Indigenous Affairs, failed to fix boil water advisories and "Canadians and Indigenous peoples are losing patience with the lack of results from all of this spending."
In a testy tone, Trudeau said: "One of the enemies of progressive politics, Melissa, is cynicism, discounting the hard work that millions of people have been involved in over the past years."
Trudeau added his government has fixed more boil water advisories, provided "new or refurbished schools," settled more land claims and created more partnerships with First Nations then any in history, but "progressives always know there is more to do."
"I don’t think that anyone is questioning the money that’s spent but questioning the results," Ridgen dryly replied.
It was a terrible look for Trudeau.
A man giving a lesson to an Indigenous woman on "progressivism" is bad enough; a prime minister chiding an Indigenous person for being "cynical" is another level of insulting.
I don’t know any Indigenous person not "cynical" about a century-and-a-half of federal governments and their violent policies that fail to treat Indigenous people as human beings.
A couple years of attention and dollars won’t cure this, never mind some mansplaining on how "progressivism" works. Trudeau doesn’t even know what it is.
Until Thursday night, no Indigenous reporter had participated in a federal leaders debate. Progressivism is how calm Ridgen was when asking about the life-and-death situations in Indigenous communities created by racist laws and a callous, uncaring and colonial Canada.
The country saw five federal leaders in a room debating whether boil water advisories should be dealt with at all, and witnessed Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet complain how Quebec’s reputation has taken hits because people are talking about racism in the province after the in-hospital, highly-publicized death of Indigenous woman Joyce Echaquan.
The fact everyone was so calm talking about an ongoing genocide is unsettling.
Progressivism is Indigenous people participating in a Canadian election where barely 15 minutes is spent talking about Indigenous communities and much of it was full of inaccuracies and ignorance.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole once again spread falsehoods on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Nothing in the declaration challenges "partnerships for Indigenous communities," no matter how many times O’Toole says it does.
Watching Thursday's debate gave Canadians a window into what former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (whose name was evoked by Green Leader Annamie Paul many times) must have gone through in government; surrounded by privilege, ignorance, and a bunch of men who think mansplaining, making stuff up and acting less violently is progressive.
This isn’t an attack on Trudeau, who was rattled throughout the night and (ironically) particularly during the segment on "reconciliation."
O’Toole may have been a victor of the debate according to critics, but this is because he said so little. If he had to answer for his atrocious platform that promises to criminalize Indigenous activists, ramp up resource extraction projects, and reduce Indigenous rights, his "Canada’s Recovery Plan" would be renamed "Canada’s More of the Same Plan."
Jagmeet Singh’s NDP platform is the most engaged and interesting for Indigenous peoples — particularly in the promise for a "new standard" on consultation — but provides few details (such as cost).
Paul and the Green party has been in the midst of a political civil war and, frankly, anything they’re offering is moot.
Anything I would write about the Bloc would be more than the 10 paragraphs in its platform it dedicates to talking about Indigenous peoples, which frame Indigenous communities into Quebec’s "nation-to-nation" interests.
This leaves yet another depressing situation for Indigenous voters, left to choose from a set of bad choices Sept. 20.
One thing is for sure: the debate on who is most "progressive" was proven Thursday, and it wasn’t who was being questioned. It was who was asking the questions.
Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.