A day after winning the Manitoba provincial election the Conservative government was in court with the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF).
The MMF is challenging the government’s decision to cancel two multi-million dollar agreements made with the province’s former NDP government.
The Métis say the outcome could have repercussions for future agreements in Canada.
Last March Premier Brian Pallister announced the province was cancelling a $67 million agreement. Later he cancelled a second tripartite agreement between the MMF, the province and Manitoba Hydro. In the agreements the MMF was to receive a total of $82 million for their cooperation in hydro development projects.
Pallister previously called the compensation ‘persuasion money’.
The MMF said the government must work with the Métis in Manitoba.
“What we’re essentially asking is for the court to quash the cabinet decision that was made on [Mar. 21, 2018],” said Jason Madden, a lawyer for the MMF.
“What that allows the parties to do is go back and begin that dialogue that’s necessary for reconciliation.”
MMF President David Chartrand argues this is about more than reconciliation.
He warns this could set a new precedent for future agreements between provinces and Indigenous communities.
“There’s going to be a lot of unpredictable futures coming for industry, unpredictable futures coming for Indigenous people,” said Chartrand. “That a premier can come along and go back…order one of their crown corporations to disallow or end an agreement. That would cause havoc across Canada.”
In court, the province argued the agreements in question were only proposals.
Maureen Killoran, counsel for the province, said a clause in the agreement states any party can terminate the agreement as long as they provide 30 days’ notice.
“It can end at any time without affecting anyone’s constitutional rights,” she said.
The province has said it will not reconsider its decision.
This has left Chief Justice Glenn Joyal skeptical of the MMF’s remedy, which is for the province to meet with the federation to discuss ways to honour the original agreements.
“I’m not sure how it plays out in a way that’s constructive to the parties,” he said, adding “it’s not clear to me where it’s going to take us.”
Despite his contentious relationship with Pallister, Chartrand hopes the two can work together.
“I’ve extended an olive branch to Pallister several times and if the court has to force him to the table my olive branch will still be there,” he said.
“Let’s do business.”
The judge has given counsel two weeks to present more evidence.
Joyal will then make his decision at a later date.