The whirlwind tour through Budget Estimates continued with questions to Hon. Scott Fraser (Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation).
With so many important issues and such limited time it’s a difficult decision determining what I ask and what is left for another time. In this session I ask Minister Fraser how his Ministry is engaged on ensuring new and amending legislation in compliant with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, the reviews and investigations into systemic racism and supporting Indigenous economic development by informing decisions about the economic recovery funds that are to be invested in the coming weeks.
Thank you very much for this opportunity. I’d like to thank colleagues in the official opposition for giving us this space to ask a few questions. And thank you to the minister ahead of these really incredible responses that are coming, I’m sure.
I’d like to ask a few questions in and around the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which came into force last fall, which we voted on and supported last fall, and the work as it starts to now be applied. With respect to that work, a question around how DRIPA will apply to amending acts that are in place. Then, as well, a question…. Maybe I’ll just start with…. Actually, I’ll ask this as well.
How does it apply to amendment acts? As well, there are a couple of bills, particularly, in front of us right now…. We have heard a considerable amount of concern around a lack of Indigenous consultation or a lack of appropriate levels of Indigenous consultation with respect to some legislation that’s on the papers right now and that we’re debating.
I’m just wondering about the minister’s position on that and the questions around whether or not the new legislation that’s in front of us has been adequately consulted and whether that’s a priority.
Hon. S. Fraser:
Thanks to the Leader of the Third Party. I appreciate his questions.
The declaration act, as the member knows, is our framework for reconciliation. It creates obligations to ensure that our government’s work today and tomorrow is aligned with the UN declaration. The act requires all of government, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, to ensure that provincial laws are consistent with the UN declaration. This also does apply to amendments to laws as well, ensuring that existing provincial laws are consistent with the UN declaration.
It’s a process that will happen over time, not overnight. But ministry officials have been delivering virtual presentations across government on the declaration act and the government’s obligations under that act, as well as supporting the ministries as they develop their legislative proposals. The ministry has also had discussions with Indigenous partners regarding legislative priorities and to discuss how to gather input from Indigenous peoples on their priority areas for legislation and legislative amendments.
The alignment of the new legislation with the UN declaration is one of the key priorities of the declaration act and for government. The work for most of the bills introduced in the current session occurred, as the member may be aware, before the declaration act came into force. This work was guided by ministry mandates to implement the UN declaration and involved consultation with Indigenous peoples that relied on existing mechanisms. We’ve seen bills come forward here well before our completion of the UN declaration, like the EA, Environmental Assessment Act, for instance, which actually used, I think, the intent of the UN declaration, even though we did not have our act in place. But I think it was quite successful.
The declaration act…. In effect, the government and our Indigenous partners need to determine an approach for review and also development of legislation that is collaborative, constructive and efficient. We are working on that. It’s underway, and it’s informed by the experiences from the current session. I think we’re getting there and that there’s still work to do, but I’m confident we’ll get there if we work together with the spirit of cooperation.
We’ve had a few conversations about this time that we’re in right now, which is the time shortly after passing the legislation, and the challenge that that’s going to be. I recognize that there’s going to be some legislation that’s in process.
When I think about some of the amendments that we’re debating right now with respect to energy policy and how encompassing this is in terms of how engaged Indigenous communities have been in this process over a number of years, it seems shocking to me that we would be having the kind of letters sent to us about the lack of direct consultation about the impact that that would have.
I recognize that we are going to be debating this, but I’m just wondering, from a kind of higher-level perspective, what can the ministry do and what is the ministry doing to ensure that…? You know, there are going to be varying levels of interest in legislation. This one seems to me to be pretty high up there. There are millions of dollars invested. There are directions that Indigenous communities have taken. What is the ministry doing to ensure that these areas of high interest, of course, are not being legislated prior to that important work being done?
Hon. S. Fraser:
I think the member knows that we’ve held a number of sessions in government, with ministries and ministers, around how to cooperate and consult appropriately in keeping with the values within the UN declaration, right through the public service. All the work that we did — it was two years ago now — by introducing the ten principles, was to try to make sure that everyone was educated on the values that we are seeking to display as we move forward with legislation.
The member also has acknowledged that some of these pieces of legislation have been underway for a while. They’ve been worked on for a while and have been introduced in a time that has some challenges with COVID and the pandemic — the issues or the challenges that we’re all dealing with now. On Bill 17, with Energy, Mines — their bill — I don’t know the details, but I do understand that the ministry has had a process of engagement that is believed to be appropriate under the challenging conditions.
That being said, I know that the member will need to probably ask some of these more detailed questions directly with that minister. I speak with that minister and with other ministers about this all the time. We discuss how we can do this better and what’s appropriate for our level of appropriate consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples. It’s work in progress, but I think we’re moving well along on this. Again, I’ll cite pieces of legislation that have already come forward that, I think, captured the spirit and intent of the UN declaration very, very well.
I appreciate the member’s question, and I look forward…. I’ll tune in also when he asks these questions of the minister. Mind you, he may have already had his estimates; I’m not sure on that. Perhaps we can corner him in the hall together.
We have, Minister. We’ve had the opportunity to canvass some of these issues with respect to energy and energy policy with the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.
Certainly, the appropriate place to discuss the legislation is during the debate of the legislation, and I respect that. However, I am trying to get to just understanding the role that the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation is playing, to ensure that we’re addressing some of these important and difficult situations before they arise. That’s essentially the spirit of the question that I’m asking — not to debate a bill that has a place for us to debate and that will be coming forward for us.
I’m just switching gears here a little bit, Minister, with respect to systemic racism, the issues that we’ve been dealing with in our province over many decades, the issues that were exposed on the front lawns of the Legislature earlier this year — it seems like a much, much longer time ago than it actually was — and recognizing that COVID-19 has, I think, surfaced some anti-Asian racism in the province that has also existed for many decades.
We’re seeing studies that show that Black Canadians are more likely to fall ill during the pandemic, due to racial biases. Indigenous communities in B.C. are facing a health care crisis. We see that most recently in my riding. My riding has been implicated with Island Health in dealing with that. I’m just wondering. With respect to the issues around systemic racism, we’re dealing with it, seemingly, in a couple different silos right now. Health care. We’re dealing with it in policing; I’m on a committee for that as well.
How is the minister working with his fellow cabinet members to address the issues of systemic racism that pervade the institution that we’re a part of?
Hon. S. Fraser:
I guess I’d open with acknowledging that systemic racism is real. It exists in this province. That was clearly identified 25 years ago in Canada, in general, through the royal commission on First Peoples: systemic racism within institutions, policing — across the board, really.
The first piece, I think, of addressing systemic racism is acknowledging that it’s real. And I would submit that we’re part of a ministry here — all my colleagues, myself — and it’s the antithesis of racism: Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
But to be more specific in the answer to the Leader of the Third Party’s questions, as he knows, the Premier came out immediately on the issue within the health care system of systemic racism issues that were raised there. The Premier made an affirmative statement very clearly saying there was no place for systemic racism. The Health Minister stepped up immediately. Of course, we have a review of that going on. The member is very much aware and involved. Our ministry has provided a staff person to work with Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond on that.
I’m just going to just touch on a few things. I would suggest that important to changing the culture are cross-government issues around even the K-to-12 curriculum addressing the realities of our history, which has not been done before; having the first law degree in the world at the University of Victoria respecting and recognizing Indigenous law. All executives within government took a blanketing exercise, which was very powerful and meaningful and, I think, a game-changer for many people in realization and self-reflection.
Those are some of the things I would touch on for the member.
Thank you, Minister, for that response. And just to my colleague, the critic, I’ll ask one more question here and then cede the floor back to you.
Just wanting to follow up. Recognizing the extremely limited amount of time that we have, I’m trying to hit on a couple of areas here. And just to, I think, make the point that dealing with systemic racism shouldn’t be broken into a bunch of sub-systems of a much bigger institution that needs to be addressed in the provincial government and the public institutions. So just wanting to make that point. I certainly do appreciate the response from the Premier and from the Minister of Health and other ministers that have dealt with this.
Just one final question, and then I’ll cede the floor back. It’s just in the context, again, at a very high level for the minister, with respect to the economic recovery from COVID-19 and just a question around Indigenous-owned businesses, Indigenous partnerships. How has COVID-19 changed the prioritization of the UNDRIP action plans? And how is the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation assisting Indigenous communities to get the best opportunities they can from the economic recovery and the advocacy that’s happening behind the scenes with the government and other ministries as well? Just maybe touch on that, and I’ll cede the floor. Thank you for your time today, Minister.
Hon. S. Fraser:
Thanks to the member for the question. I know he’s aware that we have been involved in…. Our ministry has been heavily involved in the COVID-19 response, and we will continue to be throughout the recovery period.
We are working with other ministers and other ministries to make sure that the perspectives of Indigenous people and the supports for Indigenous companies and businesses are reflected in our recovery plan. I think that has been made clear across the board. Government and all ministries have responded in that way, and we’ll be seeing the results of that soon, I think, as we move further into the recovery phase.
Also, with that, many nations have expressed a really strong desire to work with government and to partner with government through the recovery phase, to be true partners in the recovery for the whole province of British Columbia. That is, I think, again, another important step that we need to take, with government working closely, with respect and in recognition of the role of Indigenous peoples, First Nations, in the recovery plan, as a government.
I would also submit, I think…. You don’t get economic recovery, as we’ve seen in other jurisdictions, unless you can actually address the health issues associated with the pandemic. Other jurisdictions seem to be taking a different approach than we are in British Columbia.
I’ll let the member know that there’s ongoing work. There was a call earlier today with…. As the member knows, there are many nations very concerned about the health of their communities, many of them isolated communities. Of course, key issues around elders and protecting them.
We had a very productive dialogue today involving the provincial health officer — Dr. Bonnie Henry was on the call throughout — and the nations that have been raising issues publicly about their concerns about reopening to try to address those concerns, the medical concerns. That will help provide the opportunity and, I think, the space for Indigenous businesses to be able to reopen safely, as other business could too.
You have to deal with the health part. As a ministry, we are working directly and doing our part in those discussions as well.