UVic NDP students divided over Wet’suwet’en crisis

Campus News Provincial

While some remain supportive of Horgan’s government, others express disappointment

Leader of the BC NDP, John Horgan. Photo by Belle White

Premier John Horgan’s government is facing increasing criticism, as actions continue in Victoria and across the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. NDP students at UVic face division over which side to support. 

While students on the UVic NDP club’s executive remain confident in Horgan’s government, others have their doubts. Jonathan Granirer was a card-carrying member of the NDP and worked for the party in the last election. 

“[The NDP] trained me to say ‘the BC NDP would not build energy projects on land without the consent of the people whose land it was,’” Granirer said. “I feel awful that I told people that.”

He rescinded his membership after the RCMP raided Wet’suwet’en territory for the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline.

After repeated attempts to contact members of the UVic NDP club, all requests for an interview with any of their members was denied. The club opted to write a collective statement, guided by questions the Martlet sent. 

The NDP club applauded B.C. on passing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). 

“We are pleased to see that some elected officials, the media, and everyday citizens are finally starting to pay attention,” the club said in their statement. “We’re very proud of the statements made by some MLAs … which have called for peace, a positive resolution for all, and better communication on behalf of the government.”

Some NDP students have participated in actions in Victoria in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. The largest of these actions was at the B.C. Legislature on Throne Speech day, when supporters blocked all 16 entrances to the parliament buildings, effectively cancelling the first session of the legislature.

Spencer Lachmanec and Granirer recounted the tense moments at the Legislature as they watched MLAs and legislature staffers they had personal relationships with walk through the blockade. 

“It was really surreal for me to see people I looked up to being yelled at, and I was certainly somewhat involved in that,” Granirer said. “At the end of the day, I knew that what the government was doing was wrong.”

These actions follow from the NDP government’s unwavering support of the $6.6 billion CGL pipeline in northern B.C., which is planned to go through Wet’suwet’en territory. The RCMP has raided the Wet’suwet’en territory under an injunction, allowing CGL to continue construction. The B.C. government and CGL have signed benefits agreements with elected band councils along the route. 

Lachmanec said these actions aren’t representative of the party’s core values. The party, he says, comes out of the Labour movement and shouldn’t discourage people from civil disobediance. 

“Horgan owes his position in power to the unions that backed him, so [Horgan] calling peaceful demonstrations unacceptable because they made people uncomfortable or disrupted people’s lives is not acceptable in my opinion,” Lachmanec said.

Lachmanec pointed to the Trans Mountain (TMX) pipeline, where Horgan spoke strongly of the need to respect Indigenous rights and title. 

“This is a crisis of their own making,” Lachmanec said. “When it was politically expedient to use Indigenous title to prop up an argument against TMX, they used it.”

Granirer expects students will stray from supporting the NDP government in the next election. He had hoped to work for them one day, but has changed his plans after their stance on the CGL pipeline. Lachmanec doesn’t know how he’ll vote, despite supporting the NDP for most of his life. 

When asked what Horgan could do differently, the club couldn’t say. 

“We’re just students, not elected officials, so we’re not going to find a solution to a complex crisis,” the UVic NDP’s statement reads. “The government — at both the federal and provincial levels — could be doing a better job at communicating what exactly they are doing to try to find a path forward that respects Indigenous law.”