OTTAWA - Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer didn’t walk back comments he made Thursday evening at the first leaders’ debate of this federal election campaign, when he said Indigenous groups shouldn’t be permitted to hold natural resources projects “hostage."

Speaking in Mississauga, Ont. on Friday morning, Scheer doubled down on his argument that creating a system where some groups get to dictate the outcome of major money-making initiatives that affect the livelihood of others would be defective.

“It’s very frustrating to see Indigenous communities who know that partnering with national resources projects are the only way to give young people on reserve hope and opportunity,” said Scheer, “and when you see those First Nations communities so frustrated that those projects aren’t able to proceed because of a small group of people or other Indigenous communities are holding up those projects, I share that frustration."

At the same appearance, the Conservative leader announced a Green Public Transit Tax Credit, which would give an applicant a 15 per cent tax credit when purchasing a monthly or regular transit pass. The Liberals axed this deduction in their 2017 budget.

His statements on Indigenous communities, now stirring up controversy among partisans, were made on stage at the leaders’ debate hosted by Maclean’s and Citytv and came after Green Party Leader Elizabeth May asked Scheer why Conservative senators voted down a bill this spring that would ensure Canadian law abide by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

“There are many laudable goals within this piece of legislation, many things that a Conservative government will support, that I will support as prime minister. But we cannot create a system in this country where one group of individuals, one Indigenous community, can hold hostage large projects that employ so many Indigenous Canadians,” Scheer said at the debate.

The private member’s bill – Bill C-262 – was brought forward by NDP MP Romeo Saganash, despite a promise by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in 2015, after he was elected as prime minister, to make the implementation of UNDRIP a top priority in its efforts to progress Indigenous reconciliation.

While the Liberals didn’t adopt it as a government bill, they supported it through the House of Commons committee, and when it landed in the Senate. It faced major pushback, however, from Conservative representatives.

May and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responded to Scheer with fierce criticism of his choice of words.

“The language you are using is so inappropriate when talking about Indigenous Canadians,” said May.

“First of all you use language like hold hostage, I mean that's just incredibly disrespectful off the top,” said Singh.

When the federal approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline was brought up by May as an example of how not to treat Indigenous Peoples in regards to major infrastructure and resources projects, she clumped Scheer in with Trudeau in his response to consultation.

“Consulting (with Indigenous Peoples) is not, ‘I will consult with you till you agree with what we’ve already decided to do.’ That’s not consultation and it’s not — it’s what Trudeau thinks is consultation, it’s obviously what you think is consultation, but it has to be free, prior, informed consent.”

Trudeau was not present Thursday evening to defend his track record as he decided prior to decline the invite to the debate, instead spending time at a rally with supporters in Edmonton.

He did however chime in on Friday morning in Trois-Rivières, Quebec where he was making a campaign pitch that, if re-elected, the Liberals would implement tax breaks for small and medium-sized businesses.

“I think first of all I deplore the perspective and the language that he used. I think it's really important to understand that indigenous Canadians are part of the fundamental fabric of our society,” said Trudeau.

“We're moving forward on proposals to allow Indigenous communities and Indigenous investors to purchase the Trans mountain pipeline expansion but that's why at the same time, we're listening very carefully to the Indigenous communities who have concerns and even opposition towards projects like that.”