What does 2013/14 BC Budget Hold in Store for First Nations in BC?

With all the talk of cutbacks in the “new” BC budget, I thought I would take a closer look at the Budget Estimates and Service Plan for the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation and see how First Nations would be affected. I heard one of the Chiefs asking whether the Forest Consultation and Revenue Sharing agreements would be renewed as they end at the end of 2013 and I was curious. There is also the Core Review going on and will undoubtedly be looking at further cuts to the MARR budget and so knowing what is there before proposed cuts would be a good thing.  These are all good questions but when you read the Service Plan, it gives such little detail that any specific questions cannot be answered.

Overall, there is an increase in MARR’s budget for this year in the amount of just over $2 million.  This increase plus other moneys totalling just over $3 will go towards treaty and other agreements funding. Other agreements include incremental treaty agreements, economic benefit agreements, forest consultation and revenue sharing agreements and “other agreements” with First Nations. MARR goals, strategies and performance measures says that BC is targeting 4 new Revenue Sharing agreements, 7 completed treaties or incremental treaty agreements or Agreements in principle and 7 forest consultation and revenue sharing agreements.  So there is $3,078,000 for 18 new agreements.  If one was to divide this equally that would mean $171,000 per First Nation.  Of course, this would not be how the money will be divided but it is a way to show how much is potentially available per First Nation. Incremental treaty agreements have mostly been providing lands (some of which has to be bought by the Province-some crown land), the transfer of Crown land to a First Nation would be considered a cost to the province.  Any new revenue sharing agreements have to be based on a new mine going into operation and I am not sure there are that many at this point.  The Clean Energy Business Fund has its own money for revenue sharing and is not part of this $3 million.  Forest consultation and revenue sharing agreements are a matter of successful negotiations with 7 more First Nations.  (These are the only areas of revenue sharing identified by BC so far)  The point here being that $3.078 million is not a lot of money for the goals set under the Service Plan for 18 agreements.

All other areas of MARR funding were reduced.  Of note there will be a $200,000 cut to the First Citizens Fund and a $340,000 cut to the First Nations Clean Energy business fund in this fiscal.  There will also be a further cut of $1.5 million in 2014-15 and in infusion of a $1.8 million dollars in 2015-16. (the use of the term cut may not be the right term-possibly depletion of the fund by giving out money for projects)

I found the service plan to be quite interesting and enlightening regarding provincial policies on First Nations people and how low they set their expectations on entering into agreements with First Nations. (the plan is for aboriginal people but my focus will be on First Nations). The first thing of note is how the BC Government perceives its constitutional duties to consult regarding any new developments in First Nations territories. The letter from the new Minister John Rustad and the plan itself say that they want to ensure “First Nations are provided with opportunities to participate in and benefit from development opportunities.” First, they assume a First Nation wants to participate in a development before consultation begins. Second, they acknowledge their legal requirements regarding aboriginal rights having to be addressed but their focus is on participation and benefits.  Their intent of course is to use benefits as an enticement to get approvals for mines, LNG, pipelines, transportation infrastructure, clean energy and other major developments to fulfil their BC Jobs Plan.

The duty to consult is very comprehensive and all First Nations concerns must be addressed before approval of projects. In order to achieve this, the province is using Strategic Engagement Agreements, economic and community development agreements to “streamline” consultation obligations. These agreements are to “help build relationships with First Nations, resolve conflicts, or address concerns associated with the development on traditional territories.”  The province has 6 Strategic agreements-one of which is with the K’tunaxa.  Such an agreement did not help when dealing with the Jumbo Glacier Resort and the K’tunaxa as they are in court over lack of consultation.  The Taku River Tlingit have a shared decision making model (1 of the 6) and they are opposing the Tulsequah mine.  These agreements may not be doing what they are supposed to be doing and if the province is devoting resources to get developments through, would it not be good for them to actually live up to the commitments in them, or why bother negotiating more?

Throughout the document, BC prides itself on being “a leader in Canada in regards to building relationships with First Nations.” They cite being the first province to directly revenue share in support of that.  If one looks closely at their resource revenue sharing policy, they only contemplate revenue sharing on “new projects”, not all the existing projects which are adversely impacting aboriginal rights and changing the way of life of First Nations people. If the province was truly committed to reconciliation, revenue sharing should be negotiated on existing projects. The Clean Energy fund was set up to help First Nations develop clean energy and to revenue share.  To date, one revenue sharing agreement has been negotiated with the Tahltan.  They have provided $3.56 million to 61 First Nations to help with development of projects.  Now with the focus on LNG, opportunities to create clean energy are very limited. 

How will the BC Government measure it performance?

BC has set up a target of 4 agreements in this fiscal year which would include Revenue sharing agreements referred to as economic and community development agreements.  4 agreements or 2% of the First Nations in the province.  Last year the goal was 4 agreements as well.  Over the 4 years 2012-2016 there will be a total of 16 First Nations with revenue sharing agreements or 8% of the First Nations in BC. At this rate, it will take 50 years to get have every First Nation with revenue sharing agreements.  This is unacceptable progress as these agreements are only being negotiated where the province wants a mine, or an LNG plant or other development.

The second objective is to reconcile provincial interest with First Nations aboriginal and treaty rights.  This includes treaties, incremental treaty agreements and agreements in principle (AIP).  The current objective is for 7 such agreements or 3% increase per year for the next 3 years.  In total, 28 agreements or 12 % of the First Nations in BC.  Judging by the glacial pace of treaty negotiations, this may be a tough goal to achieve although the province did conclude 4 incremental agreements last year and two in this year. The Sliammon First Nation is doing a re-vote on the ratification of their final agreement and the Yale First Nation is awaiting Federal Legislation to give effect to their final agreement.

The third performance measure has to do with Forest consultation and revenue sharing agreements.  This is one area where there are the most agreements, their plan for this year is for 117 First Nations (107 which already exist) meaning a 5% increase in this, year, 3% increase in 2014/15 and 2% in 2015/16.  Again, a formula driven approach where First Nations have little room for negotiation. 

Performance measure 4 is to conclude 7 strategic engagements agreements or reconciliation agreements per year for 3 years. This is a 3% increase per year and only 28 in 4 years or 14% of the First Nations in BC. This does not give much hope to the other 86% of First Nations if any of them wanted to negotiate such agreements. Such low numbers I am sure is a direct result of the internal capacity within MARR and having trained staff to negotiate agreements and cuts to executive and support services over the next 3 years looks pretty severe ensuring less available staff. 

Performance measure 6 is interesting.  They have a measure regarding the % of public service employees who use their knowledge of aboriginal peoples to influence their day to day work.  Last year there was no data available. This year it says they want to maintain or improve on 59% and the next two years just to improve.  There is no methodology as to how they figure this out.  This could be a much more meaningful performance measure showing the number of disputes with First Nations over consultation is reduced.  The number of creative, innovative solutions concluded with First Nations input.  The least confrontation, decreasing number of court cases, etc.  How many First Nations interns they keep in government, (right now they do not as a policy keep on Aboriginal Youth Internship program candidates), or the number of First Nations people recruited and retained in government to further understanding of First Nations people.  Those would be more telling performance measure as how do they figure out what knowledge and how it is applied. 

After reading the Ministry summary and Service plan, I am still not sure where all the cuts to First Nations funding will occur due to the lack of specific data provided.  What I did find, does not seem like enough money to fulfill the goals, objectives and performance measures of BC with respect to First Nations in BC.  What would be more telling would be if First Nations set the goals, objectives and performance measures for the government and then evaluate how the government would measure up in their eyes.

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