Justin Trudeau’s speech in response to anti-pipeline blockades: full transcript

’Do we want to become a country of irreconcilable differences?...Where politicians are ordering police to arrest people. A country where people think they can tamper with rail lines and endanger lives. This is simply unacceptable.’
Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a statement in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, regarding infrastructure disruptions caused by blockades across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Trudeau delivered a statement in the House of Commons addressing the nationwide protests and blockades in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in B.C. who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline and the RCMP’s presence on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory. The blockades have halted most CN railway service across Canada.

Madam Speaker, I’d like to begin by recognizing that we’re on the ancestral land of the Algonquin people.

Mr. Speaker, people are troubled by what they’ve been witnessing this past week. Young, old, Indigenous, newcomers. They’re asking themselves what is happening in this country. They’re asking what lies ahead. For themselves, for their communities, for Canada.

They know that these protests are serious. That this is a critical moment for our country and for our future. And so do I. On all sides people are upset and frustrated, I get it. It’s understandable. Because this is about things that matter. Rights and livelihoods, rule of law. Our democracy.

[French translation begins]

To those who are feeling the consequences of the blockades and protests, I know that you are going through difficult times. Rest assured that our government is working hard to find a solution. Our government’s priority is to resolve this situation peacefully, but also to protect rule of law in our country. We will always defend that principle.

[French translation ends]

It is time—past time—for this situation to be resolved. But what we are facing was not created overnight. It wasn’t created because we’ve embarked on a path of reconciliation recently in our history. It is because for too long in our history for too many years we’ve failed to do so. So finding a solution will not be simple. It will take determination, hard work and cooperation. There is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with Indigenous people. And today as prime minister, once again I am formally extending my hand in partnership and trust. Over the last 11 days our government has been working on a path forward even as many have said we should give up. Because we know what is at stake. We know that we cannot afford to fail. So we are creating a space for peaceful, honest dialogue with willing partners.

READ: The Wet’suwet’en are more united than pipeline backers want you to think

As we heard this morning from Mohawk leaders and from national chief Perry Bellegarde, we need to resolve this through dialogue and mutual respect. To the Wet’suwet’en and Mohawk nations, and Indigenous leaders across the country, we are listening. We are not asking that you stop standing up for your communities, your rights and for what you believe, we only ask that you be willing to work with the federal government as a partner in finding solutions. You remind us rightly so, that too often, trust has been betrayed in the history of Indigenous negotiations with Canadian governments. In fact, that underlies the difficulty of solving this situation today. But our common ground is the desire to arrive at solutions. We cannot resolve this alone. Just like we need Indigenous leaders to be partners, we also need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right.

[French translation begins]

Let’s be clear. Our government will continue to work night and day to peacefully find a solution. In the past, we have seen just how quickly these situations can change. I know that we all want to find a solution, and at the same time we must prevent the situation from worsening. Yesterday, I again convened the Incident Response Group to discuss the situation and our path forward. I have also spoken with premiers across country of the impact of blockades on workers, farmers, businesses across the country.

[French translation ends]

Over the weekend, the minister of Indigenous services met with representatives from Tyendinaga as well as other members of the Mohawk nation. And I have committed to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs that the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations meet with them any time. I hope that the offer will be accepted. This is our opportunity now to bring these perspectives together.

READ: The ‘iron road’ that brought ruin and death

Because Mr. Speaker, what is the alternative? Do we want to become a country of irreconcilable differences? Where people talk but refuse to listen. Where politicians are ordering police to arrest people. A country where people think they can tamper with rail lines and endanger lives. This is simply unacceptable. We cannot solve these problems on the margins. That is not the way forward. I know that people’s patience is running short. We need to find a solution and we need to find it now.

I have spoken in this house about how my father faced protests over the debate about aboriginal treaty rights in the constitution. Over 30 years later, many of those questions still linger. Which is why our pace of change must be even faster. And not only in this situation. Despite having invested more than any other government to right historic wrongs, to close persistent gaps, we know that there is still more, much more, to be done. It is unacceptable that there are people who still don’t have access to clean drinking water, that Indigenous women and girls still go missing and are murdered. That there are people without housing and good education. It is unacceptable that indigenous peoples are still denied rights and lands, mr. speaker. So we need to keep finding solutions. And that can only happen by working together and by listening.

[French translation begins]

Mr. Speaker, as a country we are called upon to find a path forward. It is our job to choose respect and communication. We must not embark upon a path where we refuse to listen, or where we give in to hostilities. That is not the solution.

[French translation ends]

There are those who would want us to act in haste. Who want us to boil this down to slogans and ignore the complexities. Who think that using force is helpful. It is not. Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever. Indigenous rights, climate action, law and order, building a clean economy; we will not achieve these things by degrading our—

[Trudeau is interrupted by Anthony Rota, the Speaker of the House of Commons]

Rota: This is a very serious topic we’re discussing today and I’m starting to hear heckling f rom both sides, which really troubles me. I just want everyone to take a deep breath and listen to the speakers that we have today. We have more coming. The honourable prime minister.

Trudeau: I think I might repeat my last sentence. Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever. Mr. Speaker, in this country, we’re facing many important and deep debates. Debates about the future livelihoods of our children, the future of our environment, our relations with countries around the world. Our positioning on things that are fundamental at a time of anxiety. And more and more Canadians are impatient to see those answers. More and more people are frustrated that there’s such uncertainty. And more and more we see those debates carried with increasing intensity on the margins of our democratic conversations. The place for these debates is here in this House. The place for these debates are around kitchen tables and community centres in this country. And yes there is always a place for Canadians to protest and express their frustrations. But we need to make sure that we are also listening to each other.

The reality of populism, Mr. Speaker, and its siren song in our democracies these days, is that desire to listen only to oneselves and people who agree with them and not with people of another perspective. And the concern with action before discussion, the need for reasonable reasoned debate in this place is at the centre of what we have to continue to move forward with as a country. Indigenous rights, climate action, law and order, building a clean economy, we will not achieve these things by degrading our democracy.

We must be honest about why we are here. We must be open to working together to move forward. And not just in the days ahead but as we make progress on everything from implementing Indigenous rights and title, addressing historic wrongs and ending long-term drinking water advisories. As a country, and as a government, we need to continue the work that we are doing and we need to continue to walk this road together. To everyone I say we are extending our hands in good faith for dialogue. The opportunity is there on the table right now. We’re in this together. The worker, the senior, the Indigenous leader, the protester and the police officer. Let us have the courage to take this opportunity and take action together and so to build a better path for Canadians.

[in French] Thank you, Mr. Speaker.