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P.E.I. premier says ‘divergence of opinion’ from premiers on how best to resolve rail blockades

Premier Dennis King speaks with media on Thursday. The premier took part in an emergency conference call with other Canadian Premiers Wednesday night about the ongoing rail blockades. Stu Neatby/THE GUARDIAN
Premier Dennis King speaks with media on Thursday. The premier took part in an emergency conference call with other Canadian Premiers Wednesday night about the ongoing rail blockades. - Stu Neatby

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said a conference call Wednesday night with Canadian premiers yielded "unanimous consent" on the need to end current rail blockades.

However, King also said the underlying issues related to Indigenous history need to be addressed.

Wednesday night’s conference call, initiated by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, was in response to the daily protests and rail blockades in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and their supporters. The protests have cost the Canadian economy millions due to disruptions in rail supply chains. Demonstrators oppose RCMP actions in Wet’suwet’en territory, the site of an ongoing dispute over the Coastal Gaslink natural gas pipeline.

In an interview Thursday afternoon, King said the premiers exchanged details about the economic impacts of the blockades.

"There was a unanimous support to see an end brought to this sooner rather than later,” King said of his conversation with his counterparts.

“But, as is often the case on the federal premiers' table, there was a divergence of opinion when it comes to how we best resolve this."

Premier Dennis King speaks with media on Thursday. The premier took part in an emergency conference call with other Canadian Premiers Wednesday night about the ongoing rail blockades. - Stu Neatby
Premier Dennis King speaks with media on Thursday. The premier took part in an emergency conference call with other Canadian Premiers Wednesday night about the ongoing rail blockades. - Stu Neatby

King said another conference call between the premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to take place on Thursday evening.

King said he brought up in the call that he believed it was wrong to view the blockades solely as an “economic disruption".

"It's probably naive and wrong to look at this strictly as a blockade, I think we have to look at what are the underlying issues that have caused this to get to here."

The blockades raise many fundamental questions about the current relationship between industry and Indigenous people in Canada. Coastal Gaslink obtained support for the pipeline from elected band councils in Wet’suwet’en territory, but the project was opposed by many hereditary chiefs.

"If you're the business involved, you might think you've done everything you're supposed to have done to get to where you're at. Yet, we're in this situation," King said.

"Obviously we've gotten to a situation where it's fair to say the current process isn't working. So we have to find a way to make it work.”

Restaurateurs and farmers have raised concerns that the blockades may keep propane from reaching P.E.I. King said he has heard these concerns.

The Island’s Emergency Measures Organization is currently monitoring the situation and is co-ordinating efforts to assess the impacts of the blockades.

Green Opposition Leader Peter Bevan-Baker echoed King’s remarks about the importance of a historical understanding of the blockades.

"We can't just look at this in isolation. It's only very peripherally an issue regarding a pipeline in B.C," Bevan-Baker said.

"It's about ... establishing respectful relations with Indigenous people all over this country. That's something politicians have consciously avoided for a very long time."

Bevan-Baker said the Canadian government has “crushed” traditional Indigenous laws throughout Canada and has established colonial systems of governance. He pointed to the 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw decision that ruled that hereditary chiefs had the right to negotiate on behalf of their communities.

In a media statement issued Thursday, Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald said concern about the impact of the blockades is mounting.

“No one expects the Conservative government to provide a solution to the current impasse – but Islanders should be able to count on the Premier to be clear about plans in the event the situation worsens,” MacDonald said in the release.

“Islanders have a lot of questions – and they legitimately expect answers from government because that is government’s job.

MacDonald stressed that interruptions in P.E.I.'s supply of propane could be very costly for the local economy.

Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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