Saturday, April 21, 2018

Themes on Reconciliation, UNDRIP, First Nations and TransMountain make for lively debate in Legislature

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross had a key role in the debate on Aboriginal issues
over the course of two days of discussion in the Legislature this week

The final two days of the week in the Legislature found some significant focus put on a range of issues tied into Reconciliation, the Trans Mountain pipeline controversy and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, with Skeena MLA Ellis Ross involved in all three elements of the discussion through the week.

As we noted earlier this week, the ongoing controversy over the Trans Mountain pipeline plans has provided for much of the narrative for the discussion this session in Victoria, and on Wednesday Mr. Ross explored some issues related to how the current situation may impact on the already negotiated benefits agreements for First Nations along the proposed path of the pipeline.

Those comments proved to be the preamble to some more expansive discussions in the area of Reconciliation and the UNDRIP process which continues to move through the Legislature process and has been a frequent topic of review for the Skeena MLA and many others in the House.

Many of Mr. Ross's observations have included a look back at issues that he was involved with as the Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation, his commentary providing an insight into how government policy can impact on First Nations communities across the province.

The bulk of the back and forth between Scott Fraser, the Minister of Indigenous Affairs and the Liberal Opposition MLA through this week explored some of the details related to the twin areas of UNDRIP and Truth and Reconciliation.

The discussion offers up how the two larger parties in the Legislature differ on how the themes of engagement should be approached when it comes to the work of the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

As the discussion evolved from Wednesday to Thursday afternoon, a review of some of the past issues from the days of the Liberal government, as well comments related to case law, outside influences, infringement of rights and recognition as to who speaks for First Nations in communities across the province all became part of the conversation.

I really used rights and title case law to basically provide a better future for my people. I thought I understood case law, especially the last significant court case that dealt with Aboriginal rights and title, which is the Haida court case on a duty to consult and accommodate when it comes to government decisions. But it's outside interests and all these buzzwords that are adding confusion, daily, to the Aboriginal leaders who are trying to deal with this on-the-ground issue.

Through his contribution, Mr. Ross outlined some of the very real issues facing Aboriginal residents in communities across the province and how there is already a high level of uncertainty when it comes to the various processes that are in place and that by adding additional items such as UNDRIP the process becomes even more complicated.

Well, let me take it right back down to ground level. The reason why I bring this back to the fundamentals of what we're talking about — whether it be Kinder Morgan, forestry, fish farms, LNG — is because I'm tired of burying people because of substance abuse or alcohol abuse or suicide. I was tired of going to my family's funerals because of suicide. I was tired of trying to find ways to ship people home from Vancouver because they got thrown out of a second-story window down on Hastings. 

 I'm not trying to be cute. I'm not trying to be politically savvy. I'm trying to find a solution. I'm trying to find certainty. That's all I've been trying to do for the last 14 years, and I thought I had a good handle on it, in terms of trying to read and understand the rights and title case law that came out of the Supreme Courts of Canada and B.C. 

 No matter what the other side of the House thinks, the previous government did not decide on any protocol on their own in terms of how to address this. In my dealings — environmental assessments, permitting, authorizations — I actually hammered out the process. I actually hammered out the reconciliation protocol that was signed between my band and the previous government, and it worked.

The current of the discussion from the Skeena MLA offers an indication as to Mr. Ross's past experience is providing the Liberal opposition with some strong moments in the Legislature,  exemplified through his closing summation of the discussion from Thursday afternoon.

His comments coming as a response to an overview by the Minister, who provided this thumbnail sketch as to how the NDP government is approaching the twin themes of UNDRIP and Truth and Reconciliation.

We, as government, certainly respect case law, as the member has been referring to. But we are trying to move beyond conflict and having the courts make decisions. We are trying to move the dial on a relationship so that government and First Nations can work in partnership, using free, prior and informed relationships that will lead to good decisions on the land base. There won't always be agreement. We understand that. 

That's just the way that things are in any situation with government. There will be disagreements, and we have to learn to respect that, and we do respect that. But we all have to recognize that that is the nature of decision-making. It's often difficult.  

I firmly believe, as minister, that the concepts that we have — the articles within the UNDRIP, the UN declaration — will give us true guidance, and more and more and more as First Nations are treated with respect and recognition based on case law, based on the UN declaration and based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those relationships between business, government and the nation will lead to good, sound decisions. 

There will not always be agreement, but again, government has to make decisions, and we will. But this is a way to get us out of a pattern of conflict and into a way of true partnerships in decisions, where the benefits are felt throughout the province, not in isolated ways but in real ways — benefits to nations in the territories where decisions are being made. That's the goal that we are seeking as government. We're using the tools of UNDRIP and the TRC and the Tsilhqot'in decision to inform that.

For his part, the Skeena MLA's final comments from Thursday observed as to the complicated nature of discussions and the need to build on the success of the past, to move towards the future.

Yes, I was expecting that kind of an answer. It's fairly optimistic, given how UNDRIP has been presented as a blueprint for success, a holistic document, and what's more troubling, as a human rights document, because the conflict that you're talking about that you wish to avoid is already thereSome First Nations have already stated on the record that in terms of their protests, it's a fight to the death. They don't take the same view that UNDRIP is going to be us all sitting around and we're going to hammer it out until we come to an agreement before government makes a decision. 

If that's the case, then the Crown's decision date, when you make that decision…. That's 20 years down the line — maybe the next generation. If these people truly believe that they will fight to the death on some of these projects, you're not going to get that consent. I'm not even talking about chief councillors or elected leaders or their chiefs. We're talking about Aboriginals on these protest lines. So it's this uncertainty and these unrealistic expectations that I'm trying to determine, in the context of the decision-making from the Crown. I do wish to thank the minister for his answers. 

The Aboriginal issue in Canada and B.C. is extremely complicated. There have been many, many, many great people, whether they be Aboriginal leaders or people in this House, that have given it their best shot. There've been many great staff people I worked with over the last 14 years that were doing their best to get what was right, not only for the Aboriginals but for British Columbian society as a whole. To a certain degree, especially for my people, there was tremendous success. 

The success of my people and the optimism that my band members have is because of the collaboration that I had with the previous government and the staff from the previous government. And I truly hope that this government can build on that. I do not want to see the day where we go back into court for another 20 or 30 years based on vague descriptions of UNDRIP as it relates to Crown decision-making.

Below you can find  links to the transcripts from the debates through the week, they offer some important background to the discussion from all corners of the Legislature.

The archive of conversation provides for a helpful guide to how the NDP, Liberals and Greens view the course ahead and where some of the more controversial areas of that discussion may gain further review.

Thursday Afternoon  14:50
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation 
(See Video here)  (Mr. Ross's main contribution starts at 16:15)

Wednesday Afternoon 16:55 
Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation 
(See Video here)  (Mr. Ross's main contribution starts at 16:58 PM)

For more items of interest related to the work of the Skeena MLA in the Legislature see our archive page here.

Our look at the work of North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice can be examined here.

For a wider look at developments from Victoria and some of the key political issues in the province see our D'Arcy McGee portal here.

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