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EDITORIAL: Liberals need to prove Saganash is wrong

The word of the week was one we can't publish here.

NDP MP for Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou, Romeo Saganash, used the word, which starts with the letter 'f', in apparent frustration over the federal Liberal government's push to build the Trans Mountain expansion project in the face of opposition by Indigenous groups.

To paraphrase, Saganash said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn't really care about Indigenous rights.

His 'unparliamentary language' – read from his notes – earned national headlines and a rebuke, but Saganash's smirking apology sent the message: 'sorry, not sorry.'

The incident showed Saganash's anger that the feds are not meaningfully consulting some Indigenous people about the project, which would take diluted bitumen from Edmonton, Alta., to Burnaby, B.C.

All 43 of the First Nations along the pipeline route had entered into agreements with former owner Kinder Morgan before the feds bought the pipeline. Why? They want to profit from the project, too.

Seven other First Nations and several cities affected by the project – mainly along the shipping routes – successfully convinced the Federal Court of Appeal that the feds did not meaningfully consult them.

The Liberals are now working to complete its review of the project and comply with the court's instructions on consulting Indigenous people. The Liberals, it appears, are still trying to figure out what that means.

The issue Saganash brings up with his 'unparliamentary language' is the question of whether the Liberals are living up to their promise to be the party that will build a new 'nation-to-nation' relationship.

Maclean's magazine has reviewed the Liberals' success in living up to the hype. In a one-year report card in 2016, they found that First Nations were 'disillusioned' with the Liberals, and in a 2017 opinion piece, Pamela Palmeter, Ryerson University chair in Indigenous Governance, wrote that First Nations 'breathed a collective sigh of relief' when Stephen Harper's Conservatives were ousted, noting aggressive extraction and development policies but that the Liberals had made little to no progress on their promises to be better.

On the flipside, the fact that Clyde River had to go to the Supreme Court to reverse a National Energy Board decision to allow seismic testing speaks volumes to the Conservative's view of those who oppose resource extraction.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer last week noted the Harper government's ability to get four pipelines approved, and said the Liberals should be appealing at the Supreme Court while sending an envoy to meet with First Nations. Scheer's view is that the feds should exercise its jurisdiction rights, and get the bitumen flowing.

Instead, the Liberals are working to comply with the Federal Court of Appeal decision.

So with one year until Trudeau, Scheer and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh face off, we can get some sense of where the federal parties stand on this issue.

While many Indigenous people in Canada support development, most would agree that projects involving Indigenous lands should benefit Indigenous people.

The Trudeau government now has one year to show whether it can balance the interests of Indigenous people and the interests of the federal government, or solidify the growing reputation that the Liberal promises on the Indigenous relationship were just empty talk.