The president of the Métis Settlements General Council (MSGC) says Jason Kenney and the province of Alberta did not properly consult the council before tabling a bill that will drastically changes how Métis settlements are run.
Herb Lehr is not pulling any punches in his criticism of the United Conservative Party, and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson.
Lehr is against Bill 57, called the Métis Settlements Amendment Act, which had its first reading in the Alberta legislature March 11.
The bill will give additional power to the eight Métis settlements across Alberta, giving them the ability to charge residents for services like water, sewer and roads.
But the bill will also allow each settlement to choose how many council members are elected – from three to five.
The MSGC executive will go from four to two members.
Lehr accuses Wilson of going behind his back and contacting the eight settlement chairs individually.
“For the minister to tell us, or to tell all Albertans that he’s done consultation, well we elected leaders have not received a copy (of bill 57),” Lehr says. “The opposition party didn’t even receive a copy of what those changes were.
“How could you have done any consultation?”
Lehr says he did not receive a copy until March 11, the same day the bill was read in the legislature.
APTN News spoke to Wilson via Zoom.
He says he spoke to the general council and leaders of each settlement several times, and personally visited most of the settlements.
“From what I’ve heard from the settlements, nobody has a problem with what is in the bill. Some of them feel it’s important, and we should have gone further. A lot of people are saying we didn’t have enough engagement with the communities… We’ve done extensive engagement with the general council, and the other councils.”
Wilson says it’s important to update the Settlement Act to make it more transparent and accountable, and to save money.
Lehr told APTN that the government wants to turn the settlements into municipalities.
“What this whole move is about, is to destroy the central government of the Métis settlements. To take their elected leaders down from four to one or two, and to squash some of the general council policies.
“I don’t see the minister or the government telling other municipalities how many people they can have elected and what their pay rate is. And I suggest there is some systemic racism going on here.”
Wilson denies any accusation of racism.
“By modernizing the act, that shows that we want to work with them. This is all about enabling them and helping them be more accountable and sustainable,” he says. “There is nothing heavy handed here at all.”
At an emergency meeting held March 17, seven of the eight settlements voted to reject Bill 57, with one abstention.
Later, on the 17th, Wilson was part of a townhall conducted by phone with leadership and members.
Lehr contends the questions had to be pre-screened, and questions by the general council were not answered.
Wilson said a third party was in control of who asked questions.
Wilson says the bill will be passed before the summer.