No money in federal budget to improve consultation with First Nations on natural resource development

Harper government promised in previous budget to deal with consultation

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
It is one of the biggest irritants between First Nations and Ottawa and the subject of two reports issued by a special federal representative appointed by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, but it is barely mentioned in the federal budget tabled Tuesday.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on it repeatedly. First Nations, the provinces and industry have repeatedly called on Ottawa to meet its responsibility on the issue. But in Budget 2015-2016 consultation with First Nations on resource development projects gets a mere passing mention, folded into a $35 million measure, over five years, to boost the Environment Assessment Agency’s approval process.

The money, however, is not specific to consultation with First Nations, which is a Constitutional requirement solidified by successive high court rulings. The money will “allow the agency to consult with Canadians, including Aboriginal peoples, enabling them to participate in the environmental assessment of projects.”

The budget also provides more funding to the National Energy Board–$80 million over five years–to enhance its “engagement with Canadians” on pipelines like TransCanada’s proposed Energy East project.

No mention is made of anything specifically targeting consultation with First Nations through whose lands projects like Energy East will traverse.

The federal budget also discusses Ontario’s Ring of Fire major chromite deposits and the country’s rare earth element deposits, one of which is in the territories of the Wolf Lake and Eagle Village First Nations.

The budget document mentions Ottawa has invested in improving “Aboriginal capacity” in the Ring of Fire but remains silent on the issue of consultation.

The budget also invests $86 million over two years to help the forestry industry “innovate” and find new international markets. Again, no mention is made of consultation with First Nation communities, many of which have physically prevented logging on their territories over the lack of consultation.

Yet, in last year’s budget, it seemed the federal government was ready to fully deal with the issue. That budget said Ottawa would be responding to recommendations from former federal negotiator Doug Eyford who was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to talk with First Nation communities in Alberta and British Columbia on the issue of consultation and energy projects. Eyford issued a report recommending ways for Ottawa to build trust, foster inclusion and reconciliation with First Nations to help pave the way for energy developments.

Last summer, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt turned to Eyford to again engage with First Nations on comprehensive land claims, or modern treaties, which is the overarching issue behind the thorny matter of consultation.

Eyford delivered his report to Valcourt in February and made several recommendations to improve the modern treaty process, which involves First Nations not covered by so-called surrendered treaties like the numbered treaties signed in parts of Ontario, the prairies, and sections of the North along with a small slice of British Columbia.

Among the recommendations made by Eyford was a call for Ottawa to develop a reconciliation framework with First Nations. Valcourt’s office responded with a statement saying it planned to launch an engagement process to develop the framework.

No mention is made of Eyford’s reports or any money directed at improving consultation with First Nations.

If one is to divine a government’s mind by following the money, it would seem the Harper government is more interested in ensuring First Nation communities provide labour-force muscle for the natural resource sector than with dealing with consultation or modern treaties. First Nation leaders say consultation and accommodation is necessary for Indigenous nations to finally benefit from the wealth that has powered Canada’s economy throughout its 148 year existence.

The 2015-2016 budget includes a $215 million investment over five years for “Aboriginal labour market programming.” In addition, the budget puts $33.5 million of the same time span for “Administrative support” for the program and an on-reserve pilot labour force survey to “improve available labour market information.”

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