Thursday, October 24, 2019

Liberal MLA's Ross and Rustad tag team with questions for Attorney General David Eby on BC NDP's gambling plans

Attorney General David Eby had a busy Wednesday afternoon
fielding a range of questions on the government's approach
to share gambling revenueswith British Columbia's First Nations

The debate related to the plan by the NDP government to deliver a share of gambling revenues to First Nations across the province continued this week in the Legislature, with two Northwest MLA's once again front and centre in the line up with questions on Wednesday for Attorney General David Eby who is steering the legislation through the Chamber.

The commentary from the Wednesday session, serves as a follow up to their first inquires when the Legislation was introduced in the Legislature when MLA's returned to work prior to Thanksgiving.

Those opening remarks were marked by the very different interpretations of the proposed legislation that the Liberal MLA's for the Northwest had, compared to those of North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice.

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross has been taking one of the lead positions when
it comes to asking questions of the NDP Governments plans towards
delivering a share of gambling revenues to First Nations communities

For round two of the debate on Wednesday, Skeena MLA Ellis Ross was the first to seek out some further background on the government plans, returning to some themes of two weeks ago as to the nature of any consultation with First Nation communities that took place towards the new initiative.

I just want to follow up on some of the criteria, in terms of who is eligible for this funding. I was led to believe, based on the statements I heard in this House, that there was a consultation with 203 bands — or 199 bands, whatever that number may be. There was nothing said in this House to discount that, so I was actually impressed that an agreement was made with 203 bands.  I don't think I've ever seen it happen in B.C. ... 

I understand this bill is intended to transfer money to communities that could really use it. So, I just want to clarify two things. Did the government rely fully on the leadership council to consult with 203 bands? 

And If so, was the government aware of any specific process that ensured each band was consulted in a meaningful manner?

In reply, the Attorney General observed that he wasn't sure that the members were quite understanding the governments plan, further noting as to the eligibility parameters that are in place towards the changes to the Gambling Act and how the the consultation process has evolved.

The consultation, which is extensive, has been coordinated through the leadership council and its delegate, the Gaming Commission. Discussions with government, which extended over many months, were led by the First Nations Gaming Commission. 

First Nations in British Columbia are entitled to participate as members of the leadership council's three constituent political territorial organizations — the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. 

All critical aspects of the gaming revenue-sharing regime, including the distribution formula and ratification of the agreements themselves, have passed votes on the floors of the Chiefs and assembly at the political territorial organizations. 

In addition to this, the agreements have been ratified by the limited partners, which are all 203 First Nations, at the time they joined the limited partnership. Consultation has been a coordinated effort and has included fully informing individual First Nations as to the key aspects of the revenue-sharing arrangements, seeking feedback and making a genuine effort to respond to their concerns.

The Attorney General further explained some of the provisions in place to cover a range of possibilities for participation.

In terms of which nations are eligible to join the limited partnership and to participate in this an eligible B.C. First Nations include Indian bands, treaty First Nations, self-governing First Nations established by statute. 

There are also provisions that would allow new Indian bands, new treaty First Nations and new self-governing First Nations established by statute to the list. 

There are also provisions that allow an eligible First Nation to identify another entity in the event there are name changes or that First Nations adopt or change their governance structures.

Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad has a number of questions
for the Attorney General on Wednesday

Nechako-Lakes Liberal MLA John Rustad, followed up with an inquiry of his own, again speaking to the themes of the composition of the groups  involved.

Having had the opportunity to work with the three leadership councils and with the bands, one thing that I have heard very clearly from the bands is that the leadership councils do not have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the bands. 

And unless there's a specific band council resolution that has gone from a band to the leadership groups, they don't have the authority to be able to enter into these types of agreements on behalf of the bands. 

 And what's more concerning is that with many of these meetings, whether it's the AFN, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, or whether it's the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs or whether it's the B.C. summit, more often than not there is rather low participation at their meetings their quarterly meetings. 

 So I guess the question to the minister is: under what authority did the leadership councils, the three leadership groups, have to enter into this agreement and to commit to this agreement on behalf of the bands?

Towards a reply, Minister Eby outlined how the First Nation groups were in a form of limited partnership, separate from the Leadership Council structure.

What has been established here is a limited partnership. All 203 First Nations are eligible to become limited partners in the partnership. They are able to, once they become partners, to shape the policy within the organization. The partnership is not the leadership council. 

The partnership is a separate entity called the B.C. First Nations Gaming Revenue Sharing Limited Partnership. 

And so, It's not the leadership council.  Our understanding, as of about a couple of weeks ago, is there were 170 bands or nations that have signed up as limited partners.

The Nechako Lakes MLA would carry the bulk of the discussion on those themes of limited  leadership and other areas of note forward for much of the next two hours of the Wednesday afternoon/evening session.

Mr. Ross would return to the debate at the 5:45 PM mark, highlighting some of the background related to how the Leadership Council's work and where he sees some questions when it comes to any implementation of the NDP's gambling revenue sharing program.

At the same time, Mr. Ross offered up his support towards an amendment that the Nehcako Lakes MLA had introduced earlier, with the Liberal MLA's proposed addendum offering his path  to ensure that the money flows directly to First Nations, as opposed to through any form of limited partnership.

For his part, the Attorney General observed that he believes that the two Liberal MLA's have the scope of the proposed legislation wrong; noting that he would not be supporting the amendments offered up by the Liberal MLA, while at the same time Mr. Eby also urged his colleagues in the Legislature not to support it either.

You can review the wide range of themes through the Legislature Minutes from Wednesday evening here, the debate launched at the 3:45 mark.

To view the debate, use the Legislature Chamber Video Archive, the contributions of the two Northwest MLA's run from the 3:45PM mark through to the end of the discussion some two hours later.

For more items of interest out of the British Columbia Legislature see our archive page here.

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