Why aren't First Nations issues Prominent in BC Election?

Through all the radio/TV/internet debates, the issue of First Nations did not come up with the exception of Pembina’s webinar in which I asked a question whether their parties would create First Nations opportunities in the clean energy sector.

I realize these debates are not questions that are formed by the Leaders of the parties, but what does it take to get First Nations issues in these major debates?

It would have been notable if one of the party leaders went onto a reserve and visited and answered questions by the members.  I haven’t heard that this has happened.  I think commitments to First Nations would be more effective if made it to the communities themselves. Actions speak far louder than words.

First Nations have worked hard over the years to ensure that First Nations issues are in party platforms.  There was a time when there was no mention of First Nations in these platforms so we have come a long ways. But our issues still are not front and center or ones that create a controversy or make it to the Leaders televised debate. 

All three parties have committed to work with First Nations but don’t really elaborate on how that would happen and what the end goal is.  I am happy each party recognizes that processes/mechanism need to be designed with First Nations people, but what happens if they can’t agree on processes/mechanisms?

I have often suggested we needed an independent body that could facilitate, mediate and if necessary arbitrate between First Nations and the governments when their negotiations hit the wall.  The body should be empowered to compel the parties to act or to agree on further talks within certain parameters. Too many times the province just says no and negotiations grind to a halt, or vice versa.  For First Nations the only avenue they have is court, or a meeting with the Minister or Premier if you can get one.  Or in extreme cases, the First Nations may take a stand on the land by way of encampment or blockades.  When I was Chief, we hit the wall many times and many good innovative ideas were shelved because the province refused to negotiate further.  This still happens and we need to have a process to move beyond this barrier or we will remain in the same place with the same frustrations.  This just isn’t acceptable. I would like to see one of the parties suggesting this as an option. 

I would also like to see the parties suggest a process that the Chiefs and cabinet get together and chose 1-3 items as priorities for the upcoming year and set targets as to when that work can be done.  If the targets are not being met halfway through the year, the independent body can be brought in to oversee and steer the process.  Or the parties can add another few months onto the process if things are going well. Premier Clark has had yearly cabinet meetings for the past 2 or 3 years.  Premier Campbell had the same.  These meetings did not accomplish anything substantive, just a lot of talking at each other.  They must find a way to actually accomplish results and come to agreements on the larger process in these Cabinet to Chief Meetings.  Each community can work with BC to do their own processes. There are many ways First Nations and the government of BC can work together, they just have to figure out what works, commit to achieving results and have a plan in place to fix it if it doesn’t work.

In this election, each party has First Nation people running.  Will getting First Nations people into the various parties make a difference?  One can only hope so. Each party has its own platforms and policies that the First Nation person has to follow. It is hard to live up to their own values if the party’s values are different. First Nation MLA’s can try and influence the policies and decisions but depending on how influential they are, how receptive the party is to change, there may or may not be a real change.  Running for political office in the province is not easy and I wish those that are running luck and hope they won’t have to compromise who they are and what they stand for. We saw this in the federal election where Jody Wilson-Raybould turned away from many things she had stood for to be the Justice Minister.  She stood with Trudeau and smiled at press conferences when Kinder Morgan was approved, federal licenses for Site C approved, and approving PWNLNG.  She appealed court cases that were in favour of First Nations.  This is very hard to see. She knew how some First Nations would be very unhappy with these decisions and will challenge the government making them opponents and not the ally we thought we would have. 

This provincial election is very interesting and watching First Nations speaking out more than I have ever seen makes it unique.  How much of a difference it will make will be seen in the results.  I think campaigns like no one but Clark will be effective to a certain extent.  I wish that the campaign had been started months before the election and time taken in each First Nation community to have members understand each party’s position and track record and how their platforms will affect us. Starting earlier would have meant there would have been a bigger impact on who would be the next Premier. The next four years are critical to First Nations self determining future and having a receptive, progressive and results based government is key to their success.

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