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Speaking against the backdrop of a bright red sign that said "vote anyone but Clark," a group of First Nations leaders gathered in downtown Vancouver to deliver an unambiguous message against Premier Christy Clark and her team.
"Our message is clear. It's time for change," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said.
He cited the BC Liberal government's preoccupation with LNG projects, the Site C dam, the deaths of foster children in government care, and 'cash for access' corporate donations among the reasons he supports a change of government. The last day to vote in the B.C. provincial election is May 9, although early voting is already taking place.
He said the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs sent out a detailed questionnaire to all parties recently, and that the BC Liberal Party's responses indicate a "status quo" policy toward First Nations. He said the BC NDP delivered the most comprehensive response, and that the BC Greens' answers suggested a lack of understanding of issues concerning Indigenous communities.
BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver responded swiftly to today's press conference, releasing a statement that the "Green Party is fully committed to working with Indigenous leaders to create a respectful relationship, based on true partnership and ongoing dialogue, regardless of the outcome of the election.”
"I'm really disturbed by the trite, disrespectful answers that Ms. Clark always gives about jobs and the economy," Cecilia Point, a Musqueam woman, said. "She talks about the economy, but women fleeing violence have had their funding cut to the bone...this economy is benefiting just a few."
She said First Nations have a right to decide what corporations can do business on their territory, and said the BC Liberal government has left Indigenous communities feeling they haven't been adequately heard.
Wet'suwet'en Chief Namoks said he and other chiefs felt disrespected when the Premier visited their territory in November 2016, but declined a request for meeting with hereditary chiefs who wanted to speak to her about their concerns over LNG development.
"This past year, Premier Clark was on our territory. She absolutely insulted us by not meeting with our chiefs...We requested that she meet on our land and she refused," he said. "Our people get so frustrated that we step back, but that can't happen anymore. Our youth, elders, all British Columbians must get out to vote. Do not sit back."
Regarding Premier Clark's statements that liquefied natural gas projects will provide jobs in indigenous communities, Chief Namoks and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said that the jobs are "transient" and that the projects are not likely to lead to long-term growth due to difficulties in the Asian market for LNG.
A request for comment has been sent to the Premier's office, and a reply is pending.