Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre proposed a new plan Thursday for First Nations to collect taxes from industry that he says would speed up negotiations and project approvals.
Poilievre promised that a future Conservative government would implement what he called an optional First Nations resource charge, garnering support from some Indigenous leaders and skepticism from others — including from the chair of the First Nations Bank of Canada.
The policy was developed by the First Nations Tax Commission, an arm’s-length body that works to support First Nations taxation, and brought to the party.
Poilievre made the announcement alongside First Nations leaders in Vancouver, dubbing the policy a First Nation-led solution to a made-in-Ottawa problem.
The opt-in program would permit First Nations to collect 50 per cent of the federal taxes paid by industrial activities on their land, with industry getting a tax credit in exchange.
“The direct result of the Ottawa-knows-best approach has been poverty, substandard infrastructure and housing, unsafe drinking water and despair,” Poilievre said.
“Putting First Nations back in control of their money and letting them bring home the benefits of resource development will get faster buy in for good projects to go ahead.”
Bill Namagoose, the chair of the First Nations Bank of Canada, criticized Poilievre’s plan by saying it would enable the federal government to offload its constitutional and fiduciary obligations to First Nations communities.
He wrote on LinkedIn Thursday that any “own source revenue (OSR) from resource extraction” would be used by the federal government to “cut community funding.”
Poilievre said the charge would not preclude communities from using other arrangements like impact benefit agreements, and that it would uphold treaty rights and the duty to consult.
Chief Donna Big Canoe of Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nation said alongside Poilievre that Canada’s legacy of colonialism has led to inequalities, and the resource charge is a step forward.
Chief Trevor Makadahay of Doig River First Nation, who also took part in the announcement, said “it’s ridiculous that the smallest governments must navigate the most complex negotiations. We want to implement a charge like other Canadian governments to streamline business.”
Poilievre has teased the plan before, saying he’s been holding consultations on it for about a year.
But the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said Thursday that its member First Nations were not consulted on the initiative.
The assembly is approaching the announcement “with caution,” said a Thursday news release, citing concerns about the approach of the last federal Conservative government under former prime minister Stephen Harper.
“It is crucial to acknowledge that First Nations are rights-holders, and any policy or law affecting them must involve meaningful consultation,” said grand chief Cathy Merrick.
Asked about the organization’s statement during an interview with APTN, Poilievre said: “We have to move forward together.”
Harper’s shadow looms large over the party’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples, with the Idle No More movement still a vivid memory.
Idle No More was a widespread Indigenous-led protest movement triggered in part by the Jobs and Growth Act, a sweeping and controversial omnibus bill introduced in 2012 by Harper’s majority government.
Indigenous Peoples feared the bill would diminish their rights while making it easier for governments and industry to develop resources without a strict environmental assessment.
Assembly of First Nations national chief Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak recently told The Canadian Press she was trying to make inroads with Poilievre, hoping to forestall the tensions and angst that marked the party’s last time in power.
Poilievre’s focus on a potential Conservative government’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples appears to be centred around economic reconciliation — a term recently popularized to describe fostering economic relationships with First Nations, industry and government.
The Conservatives envision Indigenous Peoples reaping the rewards of natural resource development in their own territories, said Eva Jewell, research director at the Yellowhead Institute, an Indigenous-led research centre at Toronto Metropolitan University.
But many First Nations leaders are more interested in restitution, the return of Indigenous territory and a more constructive relationship with the federal government, she said in a recent interview.
The Liberals have also touted economic reconciliation as a step forward, with Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu holding talks this week with banks, industry and First Nations.
She said in a statement capital access, faster infrastructure development and new ways of doing business were among the themes that emerged in those discussions. “Practical solutions aren’t found in slogans but rather emerge when government listens and works with communities and stakeholders to truly move projects and priorities forward,” Hajdu said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.