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Liberal MPs defer call for immediate blockade debate at committee

OTTAWA — Liberal MPs temporarily thwarted an attempt by a Bloc Quebecois MP to immediately debate the "Indigenous crisis" involving rail and road blockades across the country at a Commons committee Tuesday as the political fallout of the disruptions

OTTAWA — Liberal MPs temporarily thwarted an attempt by a Bloc Quebecois MP to immediately debate the "Indigenous crisis" involving rail and road blockades across the country at a Commons committee Tuesday as the political fallout of the disruptions continues to dominate Parliament Hill.

Bloc MP Sylvie Berube wants to call the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a major natural-gas pipeline on their traditional B.C. territory to testify before the House of Commons's committee on Indigenous and northern affairs.

The protests blocking rail and road traffic in Quebec and across the country have caused a state of crisis, Berube said, and she wanted the committee to immediately begin debate on her motion Tuesday calling for a study of the matter.

"Given the importance of the crisis, we have to discuss this today," Berube said in French Tuesday.

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq of Nunavut and Conservative MP Jamie Schmale of Ontario both agreed the issue is pressing and should be addressed and debated right away.

But Liberal MPs would not waive the 48 hours of notice required for a new motion to be debated. They did agree to put it at the top of the agenda for a meeting on Thursday.

"This is a very important issue and we recognize that, but, frankly we don't even have the text (of the motion) in hand and we would need some time to reflect on it," Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree said.

Cabinet ministers tried to convey their recognition of the growing public frustration at the effect the disruptions are having on Canadian jobs and industry in multiple appearances Tuesday..

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Mary Robinson warned farmers are being "severely and harshly impacted" by the blockades despite having nothing to do with the dispute over a B.C. pipeline project, citing shortages of propane for heating barns and feed for animals as among the top concerns, particularly for farmers in eastern Canada.

Quebec MPs also raised concerns about layoffs in the forestry sector in Quebec, which are also being blamed on the blockades.

"We understand the anxiety of people, anxiety of entrepreneurs, of businesspeople, and we need to make sure that we resolve this crisis and that's why we're actually working extremely hard," Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly told reporters.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett echoed these sentiments, saying she recognizes "the urgency of this crisis and its impact on Canadians from one ocean to another."

"We are hopeful that we will be able to peacefully resolve this crisis and that's why I have been in regular communication with hereditary chiefs over the last week and I have communicated that we are available to meet in person any time."

The disruptions, which began Feb. 6, have come in response to a move by the RCMP to clear protesters who had been blocking access to a worksite for the Coastal GasLink natural-gas pipeline in British Columbia. Hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en Nation oppose the work on their traditional territory, despite support from elected band councils along the pipeline route.

New barricades and roadblocks popped up in Ontario, Quebec and Vancouver Tuesday after RCMP removed a demonstration on the Canadian National Rail main line in northern B.C. Monday evening. Fourteen people were arrested Monday at the blockade outside New Hazelton and three other hereditary chiefs were also taken into custody, according to Gitxsan Nation Hereditary Chief Spookwx, who also goes by the name Norm Stephens.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of inaction and Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet called on Trudeau to get on a plane to British Columbia and meet with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs to end the "crisis."

Trudeau did not take reporters' questions on the issue Tuesday and did not attend question period but did discuss the issue during a closed-door cabinet meeting Tuesday.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said the federal government is still trying to find a resolution to the hereditary chiefs' demands that the RCMP leave their territory, after closing an outpost on an access road to the pipeline project.

There is dispute about whether this move sufficiently meets the chiefs' wishes, as RCMP have indicated patrols in the territory would continue.

Communication between government officials and the chiefs has been challenging, since some of the hereditary chiefs have been in B.C. while others travelled to Ontario late last week to visit Mohawk supporters, Miller said. But he was optimistic about recent discussions, including exchanges that went on all weekend and continued Monday.

Every level of government is aiming for a peaceful resolution, Miller said. He also noted there are particular, phased protocols necessary when dealing with Indigenous communities and that engagements involving police must be "cautious."

"Over the last few days there has been some back and forth that has been modestly positive," Miller said

"Given that there is a very important job in this country for all of us, whether we're politicians, to keep the peace, and to push for peaceful resolution, that is precisely what I am doing."

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government recognizes Canadians' frustrations and the real-life impacts the blockades are having on people's lives and livelihoods, and once again called for those involved to take the barricades down.

But he also stressed the importance of allowing negotiations to "proceed at their own pace."

"There's also I think underlying issues that need to be addressed, and so it's important that both a strategy of negotiation and discussion continue," Blair said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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