Question Period: First Nations Consultation – Thursday, March 19, 2016
First Nations Consultation
Mr. Coon: The Premier met with the chiefs from the Wolastoqi and Mi’kmaq First Nations yesterday. As we know, neither the Wolastoqiyik, the Mi’kmaq, nor the Passamaquoddy ceded or surrendered land to the Crown. The legal bases for the government’s relationship with First Nations are our Peace and Friendship Treaties and a growing mountain of Supreme Court decisions. The most recent is the Tsilhqot’in decision from B.C. Can the Premier inform this House about the action items and timelines that emerged from his meeting yesterday?
Hon. Mr. Gallant: I thank the member for Fredericton South for the question. Yesterday, we had a great meeting with the chiefs of all the First Nations communities and with some of the proxies for two chiefs who were not able to make it themselves. The Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs and I were in attendance, with a caucus member and some of our staff.
We thought it was a very good discussion. They certainly raised some of the concerns that they have. They raised concerns about some of the things that they would like to see happen in their communities to help them raise the Human Development Index in their regions and communities. We certainly listened. We took all their ideas, and we are certainly going to take them to heart and do the best that we possibly can to implement them.
First Nations are an important part of the community in New Brunswick. We need to work with them. We need to partner with them to find ways to grow our economy, to get our finances in order, and, of course, to help families that are struggling.
It was a very productive meeting from our perspective, and I certainly hope the chiefs thought it was productive from their perspective as well.
Mr. Coon: I do not think I heard any action items in that answer.
The unanimous Supreme Court ruling in 2014 recognized the title of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation to a large area of traditional land outside its reserve but clarified that, even before a title is recognized by the courts, the province must consult about the uses of that land and must accommodate First Nations’ interests. Whether the proposal is to change the way logging occurs or to dig an open pit mine or to bury a pipeline, what process does the Premier intend to initiate to ensure that this government can effectively consult and accommodate First Nations to the standards set by the Tsilhqot’in decision?
L’hon. M. Gallant : C’est une très bonne question, et, en effet, nous allons prendre des actions suite à cette réunion.
It was a great meeting in which we did have action items, such as ensuring that we build a strong relationship and open dialogue with the First Nations across the province. I made it very clear to them that we may not always agree but that it is always important that we have the chance to talk to each other and to understand mutually where we are coming from, why we are doing what we are doing, and why we prioritize what we prioritize.
Specifically, in 30 seconds, the duty to consult is very important to our government. It is something that, legally, we have to do, but it is something that, morally, we should be doing as well. We are actually taking on a process that is much more formal and across-the-board, to ensure that we are aware of when the duty to consult is triggered. With any activity within the government, we are going to be requiring that more civil servants be trained on what the duty to consult is and we are going to ensure that they see earlier on when it is triggered so that we can be more proactive in the conversation with First Nations.
Mr. Coon: As MLAs, we swore an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, so, as part of our job, we all have a responsibility to uphold the honour of the Crown in our relations with the Wolastoqiyik, the Mi’kmaq, and the Passamaquoddy. I have a suggestion to help the Premier move forward with building our relationship with the First Nations. My question is this: Will the Premier establish an all-party standing committee of the Legislature to ensure the honour of the Crown is upheld in every dimension of government’s relationship with First Nations in this province?
L’hon. M. Gallant : Nous sommes ouverts à n’importe quelle idée qui peut nous aider à améliorer nos relations avec les Premières nations de la province.
With that said, we are doing many things to ensure that we have a better relationship. We are opening dialogues, obviously, through informal meetings with the minister and I, as often as possible. We have also asked the civil service to play a more comprehensive role when it comes to understanding the duty to consult, when it is triggered and what needs to happen to accommodate it.
On top of that, we think it is important that all members of our caucus and all members of the government understand First Nations communities and their cultures. That is why one of the action items from our meeting is that we are going to have a bit of a buddy system, if you will. Members of our caucus will speak to First Nations communities. They will have an open dialogue, visit them, and attend some of their events to understand fully their challenges and opportunities and to understand their culture to see how we, as a government, can help. We look forward to that.