Improving the relationship between the government and Indigenous communities must be a top priority. The future of our economy depends on successful reconciliation and meaningful trust-building. Indigenous peoples are the fastest growing demographic in Canada. While more Indigenous students are graduating from universities or trade programs, working in highly skilled jobs, and starting their own businesses than ever before, still there are far too many reserves getting left behind. And communities whose youth leave to earn a higher education and work experience, struggle to draw them back as there is too often no economy to support them.
A rising tide lifts all boats. When Indigenous communities rise economically, all of Canada rises. While there are many examples of Indigenous communities and businesses that are booming, these successes are overshadowed by the unacceptable living conditions on some reserves. The simple truth is that some of the conditions facing on-reserve First Nations communities is simply unacceptable and any meaningful reconciliation must start by addressing this with honesty and urgency.
Conservative governments have a long history of working effectively with Indigenous people. It was Prime Minister John Diefenbaker who pushed legislation through Parliament to grant First Nations people the right to vote in 1960. Bill McKnight was the Minister of Indian Affairs under the Mulroney government that wrote the 1992 Saskatchewan Treaty Land Entitlement Framework Agreement. He was later made treaty commissioner and an honourary Chief of Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in recognition of his dedication to Indigenous peoples. The Mulroney government also signed the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. And it was the last Conservative government, fueled by the passion of the late Jim Prentice, that issued the Residential School Apology, established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and implemented the Nunavut Project.
Inspired by the commitment Conservatives have had to making things right and getting things done with Indigenous communities, an O’Toole government will ensure the basic human right to clean drinking water is guaranteed for every Indigenous community in Canada. Decades of insufficient action from governments of all stripes is unacceptable. An O’Toole government will:
- Forge a First Nations Infrastructure Institute partnership with Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) to develop turn-key water purification and treatment solutions for remote First Nations. Technology companies adapting or developing technologies for this use will also be eligible for the Brian Mulroney Prize for Green Innovation to help invent this technology development (see: http://erinotoole.ca/environment/ )
- Finance drinking water infrastructure for communities currently without any, or whose systems need repair through Public Private Partnerships with direct infrastructure funding from the government to entice private participation in bundled projects that involve multiple communities and not one-offs. These initiatives would also include training for community members to work in and operate the water infrastructure for fair wages. These projects will also be eligible for Industrial Regional Benefit (IRB) offset credits; and
- Expand the Canadian Armed Forces’ Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) team to have a domestic incident response team to respond to flood, water contamination or other domestic emergencies as part of the aid to the civil power aspect of the Canadian Armed Forces operational mandate. Domestic health and environmental emergencies in some of our remote First Nations communities are unacceptable and should be afforded the same degrees of swift response as we apply to international disasters. This would be made available to them upon their request.
An O’Toole government will value and respect the nation to nation dialogue between the government of Canada and First Nations governments to build partnerships for the benefit of all Canadians. This nation to nation approach will include expectations of the same levels of transparency, accountability and governance that is expected of all levels of government. Accordingly, an O’Toole government will:
- Create the First Nations Corporate Governance Panel comprised of members appointed by the federal government, provincial governments and the Assembly of First Nations.
- Launch the Tecumseh Governance Project, where each year the federal government sponsors the attendance of 10 Aboriginal leaders on the Institute for Chartered Directors course, where attendees receive world class governance education and the ICD.D credential.
- Restore the First Nations Transparency Act eliminated by the Trudeau government within days of forming government with a reformed First Nations Governance Act. Annual transparency reports will be submitted to the First National Governance Panel, who will advise the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs on recommendations with respect to transparency issues, spending irregularities or poor governance practices. The new Act will also require adherence to governance practices for all First Nations.
Empowering Economic Development for Indigenous Peoples
Economic development and job creation represent the future prosperity for the next generation of Aboriginal Canadians and the best way to address reconciliation for past injustice. Economic development serves a critical function for Indigenous communities who want to maximize the resource potential of their traditional territories in a sustainable way. While this is commonly thought of as participation in natural resources projects, for so many indigenous communities, it also includes business ventures in real estate, industrial and business parks, wineries, casinos, golf courses, gas stations, restaurants, eco-tourism and so on. These ventures benefit our country as a whole, add to our economy and will often allow more and more Canadians to experience aboriginal culture, art and natural spaces.
It has been over 20 years since the Procurement Strategy for Aboriginal Business was launched, and almost ten years since our last Conservative government implemented the Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, which expanded opportunities in resource development.
An O’Toole government will work with Indigenous business leaders and communities to:
- Develop and implement a National Indigenous Procurement Policy that further enhances access to resource sectors and creates new opportunities to participate in all government procurement, including National Defence and Coast Guard procurements directly and through offsets. The Policy would:
- Award Indigenous bidders extra “value proposition” points under the Defence Procurement Strategy and similar extra weighting in all other government procurement processes;
- Incentivize non-Indigenous bidders to include Indigenous sub-contractors in their bids and Indigenous persons in their workforce; and,
- Publicly report on Indigenous procurement levels each year.
- Hold a National Resource Revenue Sharing Summit with all levels of government, First Nations and the private sector to facilitate greater consistency in approach across jurisdictions as it pertains to sharing natural resource tax revenues and royalties with Indigenous communities as well as models that support equity ownership;
An O’Toole government will empower Indigenous communities to more effectively and meaningfully participate in major project reviews and the Environmental Assessments required for infrastructure projects by repurposing the funding made available to communities for technical reviews of environmental approvals. Too many non-Indigenous consultants and lawyers are benefitting from that funding instead of Indigenous community members themselves. It will now be used to fund environmental science and regulatory training for Indigenous community members.
An O’Toole government will also free up resources for job training, literacy and other grant and contribution programming normally directed by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and empower groups to assess and determine grant applicants. This is part of the O’Toole government’s Great Country initiative to empower grassroots and civil society organizations to direct funding and assistance in their communities and areas of expertise. Groups helping the needs on the ground are often better suited to assess and deploy funds than a bureaucracy in Ottawa.
An O’Toole government will break the logjam holding back land claim settlements across Canada. Land claims have too often been mired in years and years of indecision and delay despite the willingness of the federal government to move forward on resolution of claims. The delays are caused, in part, by the reluctance of the various First Nations communities to be the first in line with the federal government because subsequent negotiations by other First Nations may be more advantageous based on the trail blazed by the first. The existence of overlapping claims between various First Nations bands and the same lands often causes unacceptable delays and even the gaming of the land claims settlement process. This can no longer be permitted to happen. Accordingly, an O’Toole government will finally resolve longstanding claims by:
- Empowering the Assembly of First Nations and the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs to create a First Nations-led Land Claims Overlap Commission to bring together neighbouring First Nation bands to resolve overlapping claims to lands before land claims negotiations are commenced or finalized with the federal government.
- The federal government will fund the Land Claims Overlap Commission and provide administrative support but will also not enter into any land claim negotiations until all overlaps are resolved through First Nation to First Nation dialogue in a forum managed by First Nations.
- Land Claim resolution will be fast tracked by an O’Toole government following completion of overlap resolution.
- An O’Toole government will never consider or approve fee simple transfer of privately held lands in any land claim negotiation and would avoid or mitigate any impacts to privately held lands.
The service of Aboriginal Canadians in uniform for their community and country has been exceptional but is not as well-known as it should be to Canadians. In my first international speech as Minister of Veterans Affairs, the Devil’s Brigade Congressional Gold Medal in the Capitol Building, the only Veteran I mentioned by name was Tommy Prince. Prince was the most decorated Aboriginal soldier in the Second World War and he follows on the incredible service of many young aboriginal men in the Great War who served and died for a country that did not even grant them the vote or full citizenship. That tradition of service continues today in the Canadian Armed Forces, the RCMP and in first responder units across the country. An O’Toole government will recognize this service and build upon it by:
- Increasing the ranks and training budget of the Canadian Rangers to establish more robust capacities and capabilities to exert our northern sovereignty;
- Restore a presence of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves in Yukon and complete the naval facility in Nunavut (see: http://erinotoole.ca/true-north-strong/ )
- Expand the Aboriginal Leadership Orientation Year (ALOY) at the Royal Military College of Canada and offer similarly tailored entry plans for young Aboriginal men and women to join the Canadian Armed Forces;
- Work with the CAF and private industry to train and deploy a Canadian Rangers Drone Squadron, allowing First Nations youth to be trained to deploy and maintain drone technology to enhance northern sovereignty patrols and to observe animal migration and environmental issues.
- Create and fund a specialized RCMP Aboriginal Liaison Officer position and a pilot program to deploy these specialized officers to the 15 largest provincial and municipal police forces in Canada in an attached posting to these forces. The pilot will also include 15 other Aboriginal Liaison Officers for communities that have high level of off-reserve Aboriginal populations and/or a high number of missing or murdered Indigenous women cold cases. The Aboriginal Liaison Officer will serve as a community-based policing resource for these forces to enhance their relationship with First Nations and will be given a specific mandate to re-examine cold cases or acute issues facing the community.