Statement by Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker, Leader of the Official Opposition, on the unanimous passing of Motion 97 “In support of the free and safe exercise of treaty rights”
On November 24, 2020 I was pleased to see the motion supporting Mi’kmaq who wish to exercise their treaty right for a moderate livelihood fishery receive the full support of all MLAs from all parties, including the Minister of Fisheries and Communities.
My colleagues and I have been speaking to a number of people who have questions and concerns about how we can respect and support the legal, treaty right of Mi’kmaq fishers to enjoy a moderate livelihood fishery.
The foremost concern that we have been hearing from all fishers, Mi’kmaq and commercial, is a desire to protect and preserve our fishery. The Official Opposition supports and encourages all fishers to have respectful, meaningful, good faith discussions on how to best ensure our fish stocks remain healthy and accessible to all fishers.
Stimulating discussion on this motion was important to avoid the confusion, distrust, and violence that has erupted elsewhere over a lack of clarity and unresolved definitions. Far from stirring the pot, this debate was intended to turn the heat down, and avoid the situation happening in other jurisdictions where it has boiled over.
As signatories of the Peace and Friendship Treaties, we have an obligation to respect and protect the rights set out in those treaties. We jointly condemn any form of violence, racism, or discrimination against Mi’kmaq fishers who are seeking to exercise their legal, treaty right to a moderate livelihood fishery.
The Marshall decision—a Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1999—affirmed a treaty right to hunt, fish and gather in pursuit of a ‘moderate livelihood’, arising out of the Peace and Friendship Treaties. While this answered some questions, it left some unanswered, and even raised new questions. We still don’t have a complete definition of what “moderate livelihood” is, and where the issue of conservation fits into the assertion of this right, remains unclear.
While discussions have been contentious elsewhere, we are very hopeful for PEI. Mi’kmaq leaders and fishers have been in conversation about how the moderate livelihood fishery will work. We believe all parties are interested in supporting each other and building a fishery that is mutually beneficial and promotes the health of our fish stocks.
The motion, passed unanimously in the Legislature, calls on government to ensure it takes every necessary measure to ensure Mi’kmaq fishers in Prince Edward Island are able to exercise this right safely and without prejudice. It also asks government to take every necessary measure to educate Islanders on the Peace and Friendship Treaties.
We remain supportive of dialogue and action that will see the safe implementation of this treaty right and a mutually beneficial plan to preserve our fish stocks.
Honourable Peter Bevan-Baker, MLA
New Haven-Rocky Point
Leader of the Official Opposition