NDP Promises and Commitments to First Nations: Will they Deliver?

NDP have good Principles for First Nations, but what will the action be?

Reviewing the NDP platform, there set out some good principles that will guide their government with respect to First Nations people. Dix plans to sit down and work with First Nations leaders to do an action plan on the social and economic issues. Good ideas, but will the NDP be able to translate this into action and results better than the Liberals and Greens? That is the big question for this election.

The NDP’s 6th priority (don’t like that we are 6th) is to revitalize the treaty process and support First Nations economic development.  My preference for a priority issue (and one of my 7 election issues) would have been recognition and reconciliation of Crown and aboriginal title, jurisdiction and rights.  This is the underlying issue to everything happening in British Columbia and was one of my key issues for this election. Surprisingly there is no mention of the New Relationship and shared decision making that I can find in the NDP platform, nor any specific references to resource revenue and benefit sharing.

With respect to my other 6 issues, the NDP are against the Northern Gateway. First Nations people and in particular Tseil-Waututh were very encouraged when Dix announced his views on the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
NDP say they will have rigorous environmental standards, but they also so they will ensure environmental assessments will be done in a timely way for mines, so can they do both? They also commit to using “best practices” for LNG and fracking-not sure what comfort the Fort Nelson First Nation finds in that assurance.

There is promise of sustainable mining and using green solutions (green energy in particular) to grow the LNG industry, not sure how they can do that and how they will work with First Nations communities to meet their concerns over the use of water in fracking and the negative effects of some mining projects.

They say they will support successful rural development initiatives by First Nations communities. No elaboration on what support means. Could it be: Money? Licenses? Agreements? Reconcilation Acts and agreements?

I find their section on energy inconsistent. They commit to developing renewable energy and to eliminate BC Hydro’s pull back on new energy projects. But then they go on to say that they will review existing IPP contracts and ensure that BC’ians are receiving the best value for their dollars. Flags go up all over for me on this one. Approximately 125 First Nations out of 203 are involved in IPP projects in one way or another. These projects were built based on the Electricity Purchase Agreements (EPA’s) from BC Hydro to cover the costs of building the project with a margin for profit. Will the NDP determine that there is not good value and cancel the contracts leaving IPP’s in financial jeopardy? This would be contrary to their key priority of supporting First Nations economic development. How would cancelling or amending contracts(if that is legally possible) also go along with their commitment to renewable energy? You have to build projects based on today’s costs, and neither IPP’s or BC Hydro can build projects at a loss. It is not clear what the NDP would do if they determine there is not good value but for an industry that contributes valuable jobs and revenue to the province. Based on their position and criticisms of the Liberals tearing up contracts, I can only hope this is not their intent but it leaves you wondering what they will do.

There is no mention of Site C that I can find though I have heard John Horgan say they want to wait until after the Environmental Assessment to make a decision.

Adrian Dix says the first issue he would raise with the Prime Minister is resolving treaties. Dix understands that a lot of the lack of progress on treaties has come from the federal government.  The province has tried to improve flagging interest and drawn out negotiations by entering into the incremental treaties we have seen unfold and quite a few leading up to the election (2 treaty tables encompassing 7 First Nations and 3 others prior to that). Revitalizing the treaty process is a hard election promise as the federal government is involved and they are not favourable to First Nations issues. First Nations are pretty clear about what they want and the mandates of the two governments are far from it. Dix thinks resolving treaties are important because it is central to addressing inequality and economic development but he does recognize that resolving treaties is slow and cumbersome. Remembering that not all First Nations in BC are involved in the process, NDP have committed to work with First Nations seeking a different path of reconciliation.

Let’s see what else Dix has up his sleeve.

Adrian Dix and the New Democrats will use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a guide for legislation and policy development. While UNDRIP was a compromise document, it does have some good principles on development on indigenous lands, the right to maintain heritage and cultural sites, protection of language, control of education, etc.  This would be a good basis to work with First Nations people in BC in areas where the province has jurisdiction. This would include another one of my 7 issues, addressing heritage issues in the province. No specific commitments on resolving heritage issues in the platform though in meetings with them this is their intent.

Further the NDP commits to building government to government relationships based on respect and recognition.  Let us remember that Gordon Campbell and the Liberals entered in the New Relationship Vision which also committed to government to government relationships based on respect and recognition and this was never implemented. It would be good if the NDP and First Nations would work out the action and implementation plan on how this would happen. Define government to government and recognition with First Nations people so that there is no misunderstandings to what that would mean. Gordon Campbell’s failure was his inability to fully implement the New Relationship and get his Cabinet and entire bureaucracy to undertake the massive change that was needed for it to succeed.

The NDP also commit to work collectively with First Nations to influence federal decision making.  Wonder if they will take on the Canada China Treaty (FIPA)? Clearly the NDP are cognizant of the reasons behind the Idle No More Movement and the federal imposition of Bills C35 and 48 and all the suite of legislation to change the Indian Act and other relevant legislation.

They also intend to have a meeting with the First Nations Leadership Council and all Chiefs within 100 days of forming government to develop a 4 year action plan on economic opportunities, education, and devolving child and family service, improving the justice system (hope that means the Missing and Murdered women issues and violence against women) and to reduce poverty.  Reducing poverty will be a big one as BC does not have jurisdiction on reserves or to deal with the Social Assistance programs.  Creative and innovative solutions can be found if there are willing partners at the table and there is the commitment to do so.

There are further commitments for ensuring training and education for First Nations people, continuing to support the First Peoples Cultural and Heritage Foundation to preserve First Nations languages, and to continue to support the services provided by the BC Association of Friendship Centres and its member centres.

The NDP also commit to completing the New Water Sustainability Act (WSA) and regulate ground water (another one of my 7 election issues). In another section they commit to “real and meaning consultations with First Nations-they may want to read the principles in the UNDRIP regarding free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) and work with First Nations in this way on this Act as First Nations consultations were holding up the WSA from going forward.

The NDP have an interesting platform for First Nations people, a lot of good intentions. But we know what they say about good intentions. First Nations people need action and viable solutions. We need innovation and creativity and breaking the mold of colonized models. If the NDP operate on a government to government basis, with the foundation of the principles of the New Relationship and UNDRIP, they may provide a more positive opportunity to make progress. IF! It will be up to First Nations people to determine whether the NDP are sincere in their promises and commitments and then to strictly hold them to these commitments after an election if they are successful.

Weighing up what progress the Liberals have made for your First Nation over the past 12 years against NDP and Green party commitments is your task if you chose to vote. I have tried to flag the issues I have concerns with in the platform.  I was disappointed the other night in the leaders debate that only one question was asked about First Nations and that was a specific question to John Cummins and Jane Sterk brought up a specific issue with First Nations on Thunder Mountain. Clearly as First Nations people we are not making enough noise in this election but judging by the amount of mentions of First Nations in the parties platforms at least we are in the issues category.  Now, to become the number one issue in an election…

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