An Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Other Canadian Leaders

February 28, 2020

We are at a dangerous turning point in our country's history.

Since the breakdown in talks between the BC NDP government and RCMP raiding the Wet'suwet'en, there has been an explosion of protest across Canada, including rail and other blockades.

I will not pretend to truly understand the suffering and frustration of First Nations and other Indigenous people who, for most of Canadian history, have had basic rights denied that other Canadians take for granted.

The poverty and lack of opportunity in First Nations Communities has never been due to the "character" of First Nations - it is that they have been, and continue to be, blocked by very real and legal means from sharing in Canada's wealth. Huge parts of Canada have never had treaties.

As First Nations leaders have put it, it is as if their communities have been subject to economic sanctions. They have been denied basic rights, and forced to endure decades of paternalistic austerity.

We must all accept the reality of Canada: that despite a history of progressive policies for many, we live in what is effectively an apartheid state.

That must change, and it must change at a pace more quickly than most governments are willing to accept.

It is evident, from a glance at the comments online, that toxic racism and hate is a horrific problem in Canada.

In an escalating battle of hate, bitterness and revenge, no one will win. Our divided politics means that people on all sides are dehumanized and treated as an "other". This is a dangerous path.

There is no doubt blockades are having an effect. They are also moving beyond being civil disobedience to doing harm. There is also a real danger that someone will be injured or killed.

Being indifferent to the suffering of others is what got us to this juncture.

The blockades are hurting people, and the hurt is real. The people who are being hurt by blockades are not going to be corporate executives, the real decision-makers or shareholders.

Ordinary Canadians, too many of whom are struggling to get by, will be sacrificed. They will not be won over.

Indifference to the suffering of our fellow human beings is part of what has brought us to this point. It is clear there are politicians and others who would rather escalate this crisis for their own self-interest than resolve it.

It is always easier to tear something down than to build it up. It is always easier to divide than it is to unite. It is not easy or pleasant to confront difficult issues, or undo decades of failed policies. The work will be hard and difficult, but it must be done.

We all have common cause.

While a select few are doing well, many Canadians are suffering economically. Half of all Canadians are on the verge of bankruptcy. Many are drowning in debt, which is eating away at Canada's middle class.

The challenge is bigger than reconciliation. The current viciousness of our politics is being driven by real pain - years of stagnant wages, bankruptcy, bad jobs, underemployment, and debt - all of which is driving hopelessness, not just in First Nations, but across Canada.

Yes, unemployment is low - because so many people have to work three jobs to get by, and still can't pay the bills. The desperation in Alberta and Saskatchewan and other parts of Canada that have been crushed by collapsing oil prices is real.

Canada's crisis is deeper than blockades, trains and pipelines. There is real desperation.

We need to stop hurting each other. Governments need to stop hurting citizens with cuts. There is an alternative to austerity and the politics of punishment.

What is required is a New Deal - for First Nations and for all Canadians. An essential part of the New Deal is debt forgiveness, which will provide immediate economic relief.

The Federal Government must have the Bank of Canada guarantee, or assume the debt faced by provincial governments, provincial Hydro utilities, and most important, individual Canadians.

The government may not be able to legislate away hate, but lifting the crushing burden of debt would at least provide a clean economic slate that millions of Canadians so desperately need.

-Dougald Lamont, Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party & MLA for St. Boniface


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