In Supplementary Estimates for the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, we are debating how Minister Murray Rankin is spending $75,000,000 of extra funding allocated from the Finance Minister.
I don’t dispute that the six agreements Minister Rankin chose to expediate are worthy. Indeed, it is likely the difference of a few weeks or months when these agreements are funded. However, I do believe the Minister has missed an important opportunity to properly fund another priority of Indigenous reconciliation, Section 3 of the Declaration Act.
As I have been working to understand why Premier David Eby’s BC NDP legislative agenda has been so slow to roll out, why we are debating Motions instead of the 25 Bills we were told he would produce this Spring session, I began to hear rumours that it was because consultation with Indigenous leaders was slowing the process down.
Section 3 of the Declaration Act requires the provincial government to align all existing and new laws to the Act. It requires early and thorough engagement and consultation with Indigenous leadership. Last October, the BC NDP produced an interim-approach outlining the process. Then on the CBC I heard Khelsilem, respected Chief-Councillor of Squamish Nation, say the following:
“From an Indigenous rights perspective, it has been a slow challenging pathway to actually implement the UNDRIP Act, since there isn’t enough resources for capacity funding for Indigenous people to participate in the legislative process. BC’s framework needs to be reviewed or amended, the process is lacking since so many Indigenous peoples can’t give meaningful input with so much legislation and consultative drafts all at once.”
Is the picture is becoming a little clearer?
For those of us who have been around Indigenous governance for any amount of time we know that federal-provincial-municipal governments bury Indigenous leaders with referrals. These governments know that the funding programs for Indian Reserves do not cover the necessary and appropriate technical work and legal response to these referrals.
Indigenous communities are the only communities expected to do this work for free. It is ridiculous.
This is not about diminishing the commitment of Section 3, this is to deeply criticize the BC NDP government for not providing the resources for Indigenous communities to be successful, and expecting them to deliver a response on unrealistic timelines.
I believe Minister Rankin has his priorities wrong. I suspect there is no capacity funding in Budget 2023 to support Indigenous communities on this either. We shall see in the coming weeks.
First, Premier David Eby needs to tell his whisperers in the hallways to stop blaming Indigenous people for his governments lack of good planning and House management.
Second, if we find ourselves at the end of this session using time allocation and closure, let it be known that it is not because Indigenous leaders were not able to deliver, but because the BC NDP government says all the right words about reconciliation, but knowingly does not provide the resources for Indigenous people to be successful partners in this work.
Question to the minister. Nice to be here with you in estimates. Just wondering: with respect to the $75 million that is to be dispersed here, what latitude…? Just kind of a very general direction in the introduction here, with respect to “accelerate government funding commitments for existing agreements with First Nations to support reconciliation initiatives.” What kind of latitude is given the minister to determine where those funds are going?
The Chair: Minister.
Hon. M. Rankin:
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. Welcome to the chair and welcome to my colleague from Saanich North and the Islands. Thank you for the question.
I think I can answer it by saying that the Ministry of Finance, working with other ministries and the Premier’s office, asked us what opportunities could advance some of the key priorities of the government. In the case of our ministry, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations, in selecting as candidates the six agreements that are before us, which we hope will be approved for acceleration, we looked at criteria such as the readiness of the agreement: do they have an existing mandate for those agreements? Of course we do. They’ve been around, in the case of the Cheslatta and the others we can come to, for some time.
Secondly, the structure of the agreement: can they accommodate some kind of streamlined transfers? I mentioned earlier capability of the recipients to accept accelerated payments: are the financial systems in place to do so? And, in some cases, the history of successfully accepting accelerated payments in the past. That’s the case with a couple of the candidates that are before us today, and particularly, the Cheslatta, which I referred to earlier.
Sorry to interrupt the flow here, to the member for Saanich North and the Islands.
I meant to actually ask, if I could pass through you, Mr. Chair, to the minister’s team there, just copies of the three agreements that I believe…. I just want to confirm — and probably the easiest way to do that is to actually pass the agreements over, and they can pass it back — that these are the other three agreements that we can discuss at the stage following questions from the member for Saanich North and the Islands.
One of the initiatives that is underway is the initiative around section 3 of the Declaration Act.
Was it ever considered that the minister would, instead of funding specific agreements, put money in place for capacity, for Indigenous nations to be able to respond to the provincial government’s legislative agenda by investing in the capacity for the section 3?
Hon. M. Rankin:
We had, as I said earlier through the process I identified, looked at criteria for selection of those agreements that met the criteria to go and find accelerated payments, where warranted, and that’s what we did.
The issue about section 3, which is a critically important issue…. I’m joined by the Associate Deputy Minister Si Sityaawks, Jessica Wood, who has that core responsibility for the alignment of laws contemplated in section 3, which the member referred to. Section 3 of the Declaration Act is certainly something we look forward to debating when we come to the debate on the current budget, Budget ’23-24. That will be, in the coming weeks, a subject, no doubt, of the estimates debate.
Section 3 of the Declaration Act, and I recognize…. For those that might not be familiar with the Declaration Act, it’s: “In consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples in British Columbia, the government must take all measures necessary to ensure the laws of British Columbia are consistent with the Declaration.”
In the interim approach that was released in October of 2022, the purpose of the interim approach was a reflection of the language in the very first paragraph. The reflection of the language was to take all measures necessary.
I recognize, and I think it’s important for me to note, that the six nations that will benefit from the estimates that we’re debating today have all significantly advanced their relationship with the provincial government to be the six agreements that are being considered here. This is not to suggest that they haven’t advanced and are in a position to be able to achieve this.
However, there is, I think, a situation where we have advanced, as a government…. The government has advanced an interim approach, yet there are no funds available, as I can see — or at least that I’m familiar with, and maybe the minister can correct me if I’m wrong — for Indigenous leaders to be able to engage in the consultation and cooperation with the provincial government when it comes to the alignment of laws — not only the laws that are currently on the books but, in addition, all of the laws that the provincial government is currently in the process of drafting.
Why was it that this opportunity…? With $75 million available to the minister, why was the section 3 interim approach not considered as a very suitable source of funding for this supplementary budget estimates?
Hon. M. Rankin:
I’d be the first to acknowledge the critical importance of section 3 and the alignment, as the member properly said, both of existing laws and bills going forward to meet our commitment under section 3 to the alignment of laws under UNDRIP. However, what we’re doing, what we were asked to do here in this deployment of the surplus, as I said, was a matter that the Minister of Finance identified that surplus, came to ministries and asked just how we might be able to meet current priorities of the government, some of the commitments that had been made. And it was our decision to use existing agreements because we had criteria that would allow us, we thought, to meet the needs of those nations with the existing agreements through acceleration.
The very best agreement is the largest in front of us, which is the Cheslatta agreement. And it was our belief that they met the criteria we identified and could use the funds now in a way that would meet the needs of their community to address, frankly, a tragedy that is well known in this place.
Thank you. I think I articulated in the response to my first question that a choice was made. The choice was made to fund agreements that had advanced to this stage, in all likelihood. The choice, you know, the option for government to fund those agreements or the necessity indeed for the government to fund those agreements on April 1 going forward was still going to be there and still going to be available.
What I’m trying to understand is the decision that was made, because there is an agreement with the First Nations leaders in this province, Indigenous leaders in this province, to see this section 3 of the Declaration Act, the inclusion of Indigenous voices and leadership in cooperation and consultation for all of the legislation that’s currently being developed in legislation that is currently on the books.
The decision was made that that agreement was left for another day. I recognize that the minister has a lot of needs being placed or a lot of requests being made and decisions that need to be made.
Although nations across this province have stacks and stacks and stacks of referrals that pile up from the government, from the provincial government, from the federal government, from local governments in their neighborhoods, they have absolutely no capacity. They’ve never had capacity. In fact, it’s one of the great frustrations that our relatives face in communities when they’re trying to address the referrals that keep pouring in. They simply have the way that Indigenous nations are currently funded under the current fiscal framework. There are no resources there to be able to actually do the technical work, to hire the technical people, to hire the lawyers to make the responses.
All of that comes from taking from other budgets. And so it’s curious that a decision was made to not support that process when, indeed, an interim approach was tabled just in October of 2022. This seems to be the perfect use of at least some, maybe not all of the funds. And I think…. This was brought to my attention, or at least, I was kind of activated on this yesterday when I was sitting on a panel when the budget was being read. It was a CBC panel. There were members from –– representatives, I guess, of the three political parties, and then they brought stakeholders in and experts and asked them what they thought about the budget.
One of the voices on that was Khelsilem. Khelsilem is the chief councillor of the Squamish people, the Squamish Nation.
Khelsilem said the following: “From an Indigenous rights perspective, it has been a slow, challenging pathway to actually implement the UNDRIP Act, since there aren’t enough resources for capacity funding for Indigenous people to participate in the legislative process.
“B.C’s framework needs to be reviewed or amended. The process is lacking, since so many Indigenous people can’t give meaningful input, with so much legislation and consultative drafts all at once.
“Part of the challenge is that it is not fully understood. There will be a cost to implementing UNDRIP but a benefit, as well, in enabling true partnership, with economic development and social development.”
There seems to be also, concurrently to this statement being made on public radio in response to the budget by a well-known and well-respected Indigenous leader in our province…. Concurrently there is a challenging backlog in legislation in this House. You know, the walls here talk, and some of the things that we’re hearing is that perhaps it’s because of a backlog that Khelsilem has pointed out. Is that indeed the case?
Hon. M. Rankin:
I completely agree with the relevance of what he’s saying. These issues are extraordinarily important and will be the subject, no doubt, of estimates debate and debate in the Legislature in the next few weeks and months.
Today, of course, we are focused on the supplementary estimates for the 2022-2023 year and the decision to accelerate, under existing government-to-government arrangements and six cases, payments. That, I think, is pertinent today. But I don’t mean to suggest, in answering that way, or to take anything away from the pertinence of what the member has said.
Is there a backlog in legislation here today because of what has been articulated in the media — that there is not enough capacity funding for Indigenous people to participate in the legislative process?
Hon. M. Rankin:
At the outset of these proceedings, the Chair read into the record the narrow compass of our debate today, this being a supplementary estimates process rather than a general estimates debate where, I understand, more wide-ranging questions are at issue. Here we were asked a question about backlog. It’s not in my judgment. I’ll leave it to the Chair, of course, to rule relevant to the question that’s before us, namely the allocation of $75 million in supplementary estimates to six specific agreements.
The Chair: Member for Saanich North and the Islands, if you could help us appreciate how it is relevant to the supplementaries, it would be much appreciated.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would just ask you to refer back to the first response that the minister gave me. Once it shows up in the Blues, I’ll be able to read it directly back into the record. But in fact, the latitude that the minister articulated in his first response would indicate that, in fact, the question that I’m asking is entirely relevant.
The reality is that the minister made a decision. The Finance Minister requested of the minister — this is obviously paraphrasing — to come forward with some ways to spend $75 million, and the ministry made a choice. What I’m asking about is the choice that was made.
As I have indicated, I am not questioning whether or not the nations that are receiving these funds — whether it’s a legitimate decision or not. What I am asking about is the decision not of the six agreements, but of the decision that was made to fund six agreements rather than to allocate a certain percentage of funding, considering the fact that we had, on the record, in public, a respected Indigenous leader talking about and saying: “Indigenous peoples can’t give meaningful input with so much legislative and consultative drafts all at once.” That, as someone who’s been in this place for the last number of weeks, caught my attention, and for good reason, because we’ve been talking about the legislative agenda in here for the last number of weeks.
I’m asking the minister if indeed that is the case. If that is in fact the case, then I’d like to know why it was that there was a decision made. Because we know…. For those of us who have experience of living and being raised on an Indian reserve in this province, we know that the federal and provincial Crown governments, municipal governments, developers, everybody involved, have expected Indigenous nations to do technical work for free. There are no revenue streams for that.
There’s a great opportunity with this supplementary budget process to actually provide the beginnings of a sustainable revenue stream for Indigenous peoples to stop donating their time to the provincial government. Because we’ve made a commitment, through the Declaration Act, through section 3 of that Declaration Act, through an interim approach in October of 2022, that we are going to consult and cooperate with Indigenous leaders.
The reason why I’m asking is…. The minister basically invited this by providing the response to the first question, which was that actually the parameters were quite wide. So if the parameters are not quite wide, if they’re quite narrow, as is now being suggested, then there needs to be some clarification in that as well.
Member, my apologies. I was not here for the first part of the question. So I do ask, just based on the relevancy of the current discussion: how would you see your question fitting into this supplementary, specifically?
Based on the response to the first question that I asked, the minister stated that they made a decision to fund these six. It was not made clear that the Finance Minister requested the minister to identify six. Indeed, as was pointed out in the introduction to the supplementary estimates: “$75 million to accelerate government funding commitments for existing agreements with First Nations to support reconciliation initiatives.” So that could be read…
I was asking the minister: we have made a commitment to and an agreement with Indigenous people to include them in the legislative-making process. I was asking why it was that we as a province continue to expect…. Essentially, paraphrasing what I was saying, my point here is: why do we continue to expect Indigenous nations to come to the table and have these negotiations and to pay their lawyers and to pay their technical people with no sources of revenue? Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity, with the $75 million, to create such an opportunity where we stop asking Indigenous nations to volunteer their time?
The Chair i: Minister, if you don’t mind, I will allow this question to be asked, if it’s okay with you.
Hon. M. Rankin:
I do appreciate the member’s question and concern.
It was our judgment that in supporting reconciliation commitments, as the phrase that the member used…. It was our judgment that accelerating payments in these government-to-government agreements would make a real-life, immediate difference in people’s lives. That was at the basis of our determination.
Well, I appreciate that that was a judgment call that was made by the ministry. There are lots of judgment calls that need to be made by the ministry. It’s a complex issue, no doubt. It’s similar to, I think, the bill that was before us last fall, the actual legislation that was on the table for the reform of the child welfare system.
Presumably legislation also has immediate impact on people as well, and we see an example of that. I don’t know. I’m not privy to what the legislative agenda is or the legislative portfolio is that apparently, we’ve been told, is coming.
We were warned that it was going to be robust, and then it’s proven to be less than robust. Then we have statements on the public record stating that Indigenous peoples can’t give meaningful input with so much legislation and consultative drafts all at once. I’m led to believe…. Some of the things…. As you walk down the hallways, you hear things here that, in fact, we are in the situation that we’re in, in this House…. It just seemed to me that when we were looking at $75 million….
Again, I need to reiterate. This isn’t to undermine or suggest that the choices that the minister has made to fund these six projects that are underway, and have been underway…. As the member from Vancouver Langara has suggested, they’ve been underway for some time. So has the complete challenge that Indigenous nations have had in processing the exorbitant number of referrals that flow through their door. So are the legal costs that this government incurs, that Indigenous nations, Indigenous leadership groups, incur on behalf of this provincial government’s legislative agenda.
It seems to me that they’ve been dumped in front of Indigenous people, and now we are in a bit of a legislative gridlock here. The point that I want to make….
Then I’ll sit down, because I recognize I’m not going to convince the minister to not do what he’s doing. I recognize that, but I felt that I needed to come here and make the point that the project around section 3 was to be consultative, cooperative and to build a positive relationship with Indigenous nations and leaders, not to continue to do what this Crown government has done forever, which is drop an enormous number of referrals in front of governing bodies that have no resources to be able to process that.
The feeling is an awful one, when your territory is being cut up, is being speculated upon, is being prospected upon and not being able to respond in a good way; not being able to pull the technical people; not being able to pay, in a good way, the Elders to come in and to respond. And those referrals pile up.
It seemed like, to me, when the Finance Minister comes to the Minister of Indigenous Relations and says, “We’ve got $75 million; we’ve got this extra budget to spend,” and the legislative agenda is where it is, and the public statements are being made, and the walls in the Legislature are talking that it would have been the prime opportunity to start creating a different framework to support Indigenous nations to do the work that we’ve committed them to do. We’ve committed them to do this work.
They, indeed, have been asking for it, but they’ve not been asking to volunteer. They’ve not been asking to take from the Elders’ fund or the youth fund to pay lawyers to do the legal work on the referrals. That’s what happens in our communities.
I recognize it’s unlikely that I’m going to convince the minister to fund a different program. Again, not to undermine or to erode the momentum that our relatives in these six nations have generated and have been able to…. Once this debate wraps up and we vote, collectively, in favour of this initiative, they will benefit from this greatly and deservedly. However, the point I need to make here today is that this Legislative Assembly need not, as we go forward, cast any blame for the gridlock that we’ve achieved in this legislative agenda on anybody but on itself, this Crown institution.
I do not want to hear one peep from anybody that this was because Indigenous people were not able to respond to the legislative, the technical and the policy work that’s been put in front of our leaders, because so far, from October until now, this provincial government has offered little or no resources for that technical work to actually be funded. I can imagine that there’s a lot of discussions about how it is that we’re going to actually fund that work within those groups.
The Chair: Thank you, Member, for sharing your concern. I do want to emphasize we are trying to stay as close to the supplementary estimates as much as we can.
Did the minister want to respond to that?
Hon. M. Rankin:
I’m happy to, if I may.
I think in fairness and to the eloquence of the member for Saanich North and the Islands, I must do so.
I totally accept that there are many priorities and referrals, and the process he referred to is one that has to be addressed. I don’t mean to derogate from that one bit when I when I say that these steps must be taken. I’d ask him to work with me in the weeks and months to come to address the important points that he’s made and that have been made by the Chief of the Squamish as well.
I don’t mean, any more than he wants to, to take away from the importance of the work we’re doing in accelerating the six payments, the six schemes that are before us today. These are important decisions. These are important priorities, and I accept that 100 percent. So I just need the member to understand that.
Having said that, I do think that the projects before us, these government-to-government agreements, give us an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives in the immediate term, and I would hope that’s acceptable to this House, because obviously, we’re here to seek approval for that decision.