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Wilkinson wishes Cullen luck in resolving Wet’suwet’en issue, but isn’t optimistic

Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond meet with media in Prince George. Bill Phillips photo

Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson wishes Nathan Cullen good luck but doesn’t hold out much hope the former NDP MP can resolve the ongoing issues related to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership’s opposition to construction of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.

Premier John Horgan appointed Cullen as a liaison between the government and the Wet’suwet’en earlier this week.

“We seem to have a habit now of finding unemployed federal NDP MPs like Murray Rankin and Nathan Cullen and giving them a title and thanking them for their business and seeing no results,” he said. “Now we have Nathan Cullen doing shuttle diplomacy with the Wet’suwet’en. Hopefully he’s successful, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Asked what he would do about the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership’s steadfast opposition and possible blockading of the pipeline construction, Wilkinson said the law has to be maintained.

“This has been allowed to drag on for two years,” he said. “Finally the injunction was obtained on New Year’s Eve. We need to maintain the rule of law in this province. If someone has a dispute with how the injunction was issued, they can appeal the order. We’ve got to rely on our courts. Fortunately John Horgan’s come around to that point of view, but he could have done that two years ago.”

He said he hopes the talks with the Wet’suwet’en result in a solution that doesn’t involve the RCMP having to enforce the injunction and remove blockaders.

“We do hope the quiet diplomacy going on (will work and) the faction of the Wet’suwet’en who are engaged in this blockade will come to their senses and realize that this country is governed by the rule of law,” he said. “They’ve got access to the courts, just like everyone else and that’s where they should take their grievances.”

The Wet’suwet’en, of course, cite the Supreme Court’s Delgamuukw case, which found treaty rights could not be extinguished and also stated Indigenous title rights include not only land, but the right to extract resources from the land, as the basis for their right to oppose the pipeline.

The Wet’suwet’en leadership have asked to meet with Horgan and Wilkinson wouldn’t say whether he thinks Horgan should meet with the chiefs, but did say it’s up for Horgan to resolve the issue.

While Wilkinson is hopeful Cullen can be successful, the Liberal leader said it would be “totally inappropriate” for him to meet with the Wet’suwet’en leadership given that there is a court order in place and the police have the area cordoned off.

“It’s up for the parties to sort out, not for meddlers like me to show up,” he said.

Last year, before the police removed the blockade, Forests Minister Doug Donaldson went to the blockade and met with the chiefs. The Liberals were highly critical of Donaldson meeting with the chiefs at the time and are still critical of the move.

“Donaldson went there to kiss and hug with them and tell them they’re his constituents and aren’t they nice people,” Wilkinson said. “These people were in violation of whole bunch of permits issued by his ministry.”

Part of the issue, as well, is whether ‘free, informed and prior consent,’ as outlined in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed unanimously by the provincial legislation, actually constitutes a veto.

“The law in Canada is that there is no veto,” he said, and for those who believe it does constitute a veto, “they should take it to the courts, if that’s what they believe.”

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