Mr. Speaker, I will be dividing my time with the member for West Nova who has been thoughtfully raising this issue for months. It could have helped avoid an emergency debate if we had had a government that was more seized with this issue.
Let me be clear off the top about two distinct issues. Burning down buildings is always a crime. Destroying property is always a crime. Whoever commits crimes should be held accountable under the law.
There is a second point I would like to make. The very fact that the government joined an opposition party that was going to raise this emergency debate is a sign. They are calling for an emergency after five years of their own inaction on this issue. It is quite unusual for a government to call for an emergency debate on a domestic issue that it has had carriage of for five years. In fact, we tried to get research done on this point and I think, but I cannot be sure, it has never happened. Usually emergency debates would be called with respect to international issues the government is not able to lead on. However, with the Liberal government, there is rarely leadership.
There are two Marshall decisions from the Supreme Court of Canada, but many Canadians may not know that and many members of this House may not know that. The decisions affirmed the right of first nations communities to earn a moderate livelihood from the fishery, but they also affirmed the Canadian rules related to conservation and the system around regulation were to be respected, as well.
The aboriginal right is paramount. In our Constitution, in our duty to reconciliation, it is critical. In the 21 years since Marshall, there have been governments of many stripes that have not been able to get this right. When fishing is happening out of season or when we do not have a properly regulated season and regulatory process for a fishery, that can deteriorate the stocks and deteriorate the economic potential of the region, non-indigenous and indigenous.
What is interesting right now is that the sides of this debate, the indigenous community and non-indigenous community, both agree on one thing: The inaction of the Liberal government is unacceptable. We have had some suggesting that a peacekeeping operation is needed and that should tell members that the situation is troubling. Everyone involved in this issue deserves the respect and attention of the government and it is the Liberals' inaction on this that has led to escalating tension and violence.
Unfortunately, the tensions in Nova Scotia illustrate the danger of a government that is afraid of making decisions, a government that hopes problems will solve themselves, a government that waits. However, the conflict between the Mi'kmaq community and commercial fishers in Nova Scotia is not new. This conflict will not go away on its own.
This debate calls for the courage to bring both communities to the table because finding a way to compromise is a Canadian value.
Before Parliament even met, before I had the honour of taking my seat as the leader of Canada's founding party, over a month ago, on September 18, I raised this issue personally with the Prime Minister, because for months my colleague from West Nova, other Canadians, indigenous leaders, the commercial fishery, and union leaders have been raising concerns about rising tensions. That is why I raised this directly with the Prime Minister.
I asked the fisheries minister to mediate and exercise political courage. Tonight, she asked for an emergency debate for a dispute that is happening in her own province under her watch that she has done nothing about for a year. No wonder there is frustration in all of Canada, but particularly in Atlantic Canada.
For weeks, members on this side of the House have been sounding notice and caution, asking the Liberal government to act. We have asked questions more than seven times in the House and dozens of times in the media. We had to do that because for months the government has preferred to sit back and wait, hoping the problem might go away by itself. Sadly, much as we are seeing now with the second wave of the pandemic, these things do not go away. They require leadership, and we have a government that prefers photo ops over follow-ups, hashtags over real work. Hoping that problems will go away is not leadership.
The Minister of Fisheries let this situation escalate, and that has led to the tensions we have seen in recent days. Today, her inaction led to a press conference where not one but two of four ministers were present to acknowledge that they let the situation spiral out of control. Rather than getting people to the table, they were agreeing with another opposition party that there is an emergency they helped create, a sad expression of leadership by a government.
As we heard from the Prime Minister tonight, the Liberals have also preferred to brand this dispute as an entirely racial conflict. The truth is that there are some unacceptable examples of racism, but there are also unresolved negotiations because of a personal debate over livelihood: indigenous livelihood and the well-being of those Canadians and their families, and the livelihood of many commercial fishers. As the minister herself said, in her province of Nova Scotia it is part of the culture. She seems to have allowed this to drag on to a point where we are now seeing violence, and Canadians are concerned about that. This is less about the way they are described and more about a failure to mediate and come to an agreement.
That is where leadership is needed. It is hard, but that is what the Conservatives have been asking for months. It is made worse by the fact than in this pandemic, all families, indigenous and non-indigenous, are worried about providing for their family. The government should have known that these tensions were rising. It could have shown leadership, but instead it framed this as tension brought on purely by racial elements. That is not truly the case.
This is a dispute where constitutional fishery rights must be upheld for our indigenous Canadians. However, there is also concern from commercial fishers, their union leaders and their community and civic leaders that if this is not done right and conservation is not respected, then the fishery that has been taking place for centuries, which is, as the minister said, part of the culture, could disappear, along with the well-being and livelihoods of many people.
That is why we need to find a solution. That is why I raised this with the Prime Minister. That is why the member for West Nova has been raising it time and time again. We need both sides to negotiate to find common ground, with a mediated solution and long-term plan for the well-being of all Canadians, indigenous and non-indigenous. Rather than recognizing the impacts of inaction, the minister prefers to throw up her hands and agree with another political party that it is an emergency happening under her watch. The Liberals would rather have a debate here than to have brought people to the table months ago. That is why Nova Scotians are watching, including my own family, which is from Fall River, Nova Scotia. This has gripped the entire region and country.
It is harder to show leadership by showing a path to a mediated long-term outcome, so instead the government prefers more talk, press conferences with ministers and calling this an emergency when it had five years. For four of those years, every single MP in that region was a Liberal MP. Instead of making this a priority, the Liberals were taking away the Atlantic Supreme Court justice, for example, until we stood up to that.
Let us go back in our history. As I have said to the Prime Minister before, who shows condescension every time I raise the issue of reconciliation, all governments in our history have not lived up to what we owe our Constitution and indigenous Canadians. We are here to work on a solution if we can. We need less talk, fewer photo ops and fewer hashtags. We need real leadership that brings all communities together to find a solution.