Quebec premier using Indigenous issues to advance own electoral cause: Saganash

(Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard, facing camera, and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde during first ministers meeting on Tuesday. APTN/Photo)

Quebec Premier Phillippe Couillard appears to be using Indigenous issues for his own political aims by raising Constitutional matters ahead of next year’s provincial election, said NDP MP Romeo Saganash.

Saganash, who represents the northern Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, said Couillard is wrong in law and politically by claiming Canada can’t form government-to-government relationships with First Nations without first reopening the Constitution.

Couillard made the claim during a closed-door meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, premiers and Indigenous leaders and later during a press conference in Ottawa Tuesday. Couillard is facing a provincial election next fall and released a 200-page document outlining Quebec’s position on the Constitution this past June.

“I think the fact that there is an election coming up in Quebec might be in place in this case,” said Saganash. “Using the Indigenous issue to advance his own cause is not necessarily elegant from his part.”

Saganash said the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada exists because Indigenous peoples exist.

“The status of self-government, self-determination are all concepts that already exist in this country for Indigenous peoples,” said Saganash. “The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are not considered new rights for Indigenous peoples, but inherent.”

Liberal MP Robert Falcon-Ouellette said Couillard may also be concerned about the impact of successive Supreme Court decisions which have further defined Section 35 of the Constitution which recognizes preexisting Aboriginal rights and title.

“It has been decided time and time again by the courts that Indigenous government and sovereignty exist in this country,” said Falcon-Ouellette. “Mr. Couillard is taking that position because he is a little nervous about Indigenous rights in his own province and people who haven’t signed treaty.”

Conservative Indigenous affairs critics Cathy McLeod said in a statement Trudeau needs to respond directly to Couillard.

“It is up the Liberal government to determine consistency with our Constitution, our Charter of Rights and Freedom and laws,” said McLeod, in the statement. “He should respond clearly to this issue raised by the premier of Quebec.”

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office declined to comment saying it’s a matter for Trudeau to address.

Saganash said he remains uncertain as to what the Trudeau government means when it talks about nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous peoples.

“Even after two years I still don’t hear exactly what the Trudeau government is saying about nation-to-nation,” he said. “I’m wondering if they understand what nation-to-nation means.”

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