Opening Remarks to the Meeting of the
Council of the Federation and National Aboriginal Organizations
Métis National Council
Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
July 25, 2012
Canada’s changing economic landscape, challenges and opportunities are forcing upon all of us the need to think of new ways to work together to promote economic growth for the benefit of all Canadians in a manner that fully includes the Aboriginal peoples whose traditional lands and communities are particularly impacted by these developments.
Today, I wish to direct my remarks to how we can achieve greater collaboration of the Provinces, the federal government, industry, and Aboriginal governments and organizations in the critical areas of economic development and major projects.
In view of federal legislation to speed up the approvals process for natural resource development and a variety of proposals from industry on Aboriginal participation in these projects and the economy in general, I hope the Premiers will play a constructive role in ensuring a mutually beneficial outcome for all parties impacted by these developments.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is urging the premiers to make Aboriginal communities full partners in developing energy and mining projects.
I couldn’t agree more with the Council’s chief executive when he concludes: “You have to find a negotiation arrangement where everybody benefits. The problem from the business side is more one of predictability of process.”
I also applaud a recent landmark study by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce – “Closing the Gap: Partnering for Métis Labor Market Success” – that identifies the critical role of the Métis in filling the growing gap in the Western Canadian labour market.
While its recommendations are directed to the federal government, I believe they are equally applicable to the Provinces.
According to the Chamber: “The Métis population represents one of the largest pools of labour in Western Canada. In Alberta alone there are 46,000 Métis in the workforce, which is the highest out of any province in Canada. The Métis are young, growing, mobile and urban, making them uniquely situated to address both current and future labour market shortages.”
The Chamber recognizes the importance and successful track record of the Métis Nation in skills development and employment and small business financing that have contributed to a Métis labour force participation rate approaching that of the general population.
It’s report is particularly helpful in identifying certain impediments to Métis economic development arising from public policy.
It states the tendency for Métis issues to be subsumed into broader Aboriginal issues has resulted in policy that is not designed to reflect the unique cultural, geographic, legal and economic realities that exist today within Canada’s Aboriginal community and hinders our ability to maximize our workforce competitiveness.
I believe this valuable insight strengthens the need for a regional, distinctions-based approach to Aboriginal issues that was, in fact, originally adopted by the Aboriginal Affairs Working Group.
I would encourage all of the jurisdictions here today to ensure that this approach based on three constitutionally recognized Aboriginal peoples – the First Nations, Inuit and Métis- is adhered to by the Working Group if its recommendations are to be relevant and meaningful.
The Calgary Chamber’s report also recommends a shift in the funding and oversight of Métis Nation governance from a program-specific, contingent funding model to block grants.
It calls on the federal government – and again I believe this is just as appropriate for the Provinces – to develop a policy and legal framework to clarify Métis rights, responsibilities and representation, thus spelling out the “rules of engagement” for government, business and Métis organizations.
Nowhere is this need for spelling out the “rules of engagement” more pressing than in the area of major projects.
With the exception of the Métis Settlements in Alberta, the Métis people do not have a land base and have been excluded from land claims agreements south of 60.
Federal and provincial governments are delegating their duty to consult and accommodate to industry proponents who aren’t sure how to consult and accommodate Métis communities in the vicinity of major projects.
Some of our communities are involved in impact benefit agreements and resource revenue sharing and equity participation arrangements but many are not.
The federal and provincial governments should provide greater direction to industry on the duty to consult with respect to Métis communities so that the “rules of engagement” are clearly understood by all parties.
According to our briefing by the federal government on its recently passed legislation that has made significant changes to environmental assessment and the Fisheries Act, in cases of substitution where the Provinces will do the review on their own, the Provinces would be required by the federal government to ensure full consultation of Aboriginal peoples including Métis.
The issue of whether that is a real requirement or merely another promise begs the issue of where we really stand.
Since 2009, the federal minister of Aboriginal Affairs, his five provincial counterparts from Ontario to British Columbia , and Métis Nation leaders, have been engaged with their officials and with the participation of major corporations in exploring ways to collaborate in promoting Métis economic development.
This work is to result in the development of a long-term Métis economic development strategy by 2013 encompassing successful and sustainable Métis entrepreneurship, ways to engage with the private sector in economic development, and participation in the workforce.
I believe that the pressing issues I have touched on today can be successfully dealt with in the Strategy including real economic and business partnerships as well as arrangements for employment and training, business procurement and access to capital.
The regional engagement sessions we have been having with industry not only illustrate the best practices in these areas but also the common search for clarity of industry and Métis communities in their growing contact and relationship.
I ask the five Premiers today to strongly encourage their Ministers to ensure that their Provinces play a key role in developing the long-term Métis economic development strategy by 2013 and, in so doing, facilitate and accelerate the partnerships of the Métis Nation and industry that are integral to meaningful economic development for all Canadians.