NANAIMO-LADYSMITH, B.C.—Canada was built on the doctrine of terra nullius, the fallacy that when European settlers came to this land, it was empty and waiting to be “discovered.” From the outset European colonialism has excluded Indigenous people from decisions that
affect their territory, their way of life, and their well-being.
Since colonization, First Nations and Inuit territories have been systematically stripped of their natural wealth without consultation or a fair share of the economic benefits for Indigenous people. Wild animals have been hunted, some to near extinction. Fish have been over-harvested. Forests have been clear cut. Minerals mined, oil and gas drilled for and refined. Land developed for farming and housing. Polluting industries such as pulp mills, refineries and smelters were situated near the reserves. First Nations communities and their
traditional territories have always been sacrifice zones.
Indigenous people have not been guaranteed access to hunting, fishing, plant and material
gathering for their sustenance since colonization. In my riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C.,
First Nations have spent decades struggling with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans just to harvest seafood off the shores of their territory. Pollution, overfishing and environmental degradation have depleted once rich supplies of aquaculture.
Economic reconciliation can only begin when these colonial practices and processes are completely dismantled and discontinued. It means that economic development cannot happen without the free, prior, and informed consent and participation of the Indigenous people whose traditional territory that economic development will impact. A first step towards economic reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of these lands must be the full
implementation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
[Economic reconciliation] means that economic development cannot happen without the free, prior, and informed consent and participation of the Indigenous people whose traditional territory that economic development will impact.
Economic reconciliation also means addressing the treatment of other marginalized groups in our society. Canada has a long history of systemic racism and exploitation, including slavery, head taxes, official acts of exclusion, internment, and the confiscation of personal property and businesses. New immigrants, communities of colour and low wage workers face discrimination and exploitation. Women are still waiting for pay equity and equal representation in the corridors and boardrooms of power.
The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the economic inequalities in this country. This crisis was
not experienced equally across society. The wealthy can afford to socially isolate and live comfortably. They are having a far different experience than those living on low or fixed incomes. From the limited demographic information that has been released we know that other than seniors living in long term care facilities, those who are most affected by the pandemic are marginalized people, living in crowded conditions, who must rely on public transit to get to their minimum wage jobs that have been deemed essential services. Economic reconciliation means recognizing these workers and the essential work they do,
paying people a living wage, and ensuring they have safe, healthy and dignified work conditions.
Wealth disparity in Canada continues to grow with the ultra wealthy billionaire class owning
and controlling far more than they will ever need, while the majority of Canadians are $200 away from not being able to pay their basic bills. Economic reconciliation means levelling the playing field.
Last week marked the first anniversary of the final report from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry. One of the top recommendations from that report is to establish a guaranteed annual livable income for all Canadians, that takes into account “diverse needs, realities and geographic locations.” Such a program could be a cornerstone
of economic reconciliation.
A Guaranteed Liveable Income would replace our costly patchwork of federal and provincial
assistance programs, and establish an income floor under which no Canadian could fall. A GLI payment is taxed back incrementally as workers earn more. It’s a fair system that alleviates poverty. A GLI would make it affordable for someone to go back to school. A
GLI would support a caregiver taking care of young children, someone with a disability or an elder. By making the benefit universal, the shame and stigma associated with receiving income assistance, which is disproportionately directed at marginalized people, is eliminated.
Authentic economic reconciliation with Indigenous people, people of colour, women and other groups who have been marginalized by our current economic system may be a challenging prospect, but it is the only direction worth taking.
This opinion piece was written by MP Paul Manly and published in The Hill Times on June 22, 2020.