Fraser Forum

Manitoba must listen to First Nations interested in economic development

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The new provincial government in Manitoba has a historic opportunity to adopt a pro-growth agenda for the province’s First Nations. Although First Nation issues are primarily federal, there’s much the province can do to advance Indigenous communities, especially with resource development.

Manitoba has the poorest First Nation communities in Canada, according to an internal Aboriginal Affairs report. The report found that Manitoba First Nations had the lowest high school graduation rates among First Nations in Canada, the highest social assistance dependency rates, and that Manitoba First Nations people lived (on average) eight years less than other Manitobans.

These communities clearly need jobs and opportunity.

This summer, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister (pictured above) said he’s still reconsidering the proposed location of the $ 4.6 billion Bipole III hydro transmission line. In 2010, Manitoba Hydro unveiled its preferred route running along the west side of Lake Manitoba and cutting across prime agricultural land in southern Manitoba.

This went against the advice of critics who charged that the west side route is too long and more expensive. They supported a line along the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

However, some First Nations and environmentalists were more concerned about preserving pristine Boreal forest along the east side and pushed for world heritage site recognition by UNESCO.  

Land-use planning on the east side, however, placed land outside of any industrial or resource development, including mining. Some Indigenous communities on the west side supported a line on the west side because of the economic benefits that would come with development of their isolated communities.

The Manitoba government should work very closely with First Nations, given the close relationship these communities had with the previous government, and give strong consideration to the First Nations economy when choosing a location for the transmission line, as governments must balance many interests in coming to a decision. Simply put, the province must listen to First Nations interested in economic development—not just the environmentally inclined.

It also must ensure that First Nations in Manitoba are full partners in resource development. In May 2016, the Fraser Institute released a study, which looked at consultation policies across Canada. Manitoba was identified as one jurisdiction lacking final consultation policies. The study authors concluded that Manitoba could provide more First Nation and project proponent certainty by “finalizing” draft consultation guidelines.

Also, Manitoba is one of only three provinces that do not explicitly state that First Nations have a responsibility to participate in the consultation process. The study encourages these provinces to clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of First Nations during the consultation process and improve timelines so that the duty to consult is implemented in a timely fashion.
Finally, the study authors recommend that Manitoba could improve its process by including clear offloading provisions in their duty-to-consult policy and highlighting what, if any, procedural duties can be offloaded to project proponents in the consultation process. Offloading occurs when governments are allowed to delegate certain procedural aspects of the duty to consult to private third parties, such as natural resource companies.

The province can clean up all its Aboriginal consultation policies and can then advance resource development for First Nations in desperate need of jobs and opportunities. For example, mining is becoming an increasingly important sector in Manitoba—particularly in the North—but provincial consultation policies lag behind. The Fraser Institute’s annual Survey of Mining Companies evaluates the mining policy environment of jurisdictions around the world, including Manitoba. The rankings are the result of interviews with mining professionals. Manitoba dropped in score on the Investment Attractiveness Index, as compared with its 2014 score. In the 2014 report, respondents blasted Manitoba for mishandling Aboriginal consultations, which led to excessive delays in processing permits and licenses.

Improving resource development for Manitoba First Nations is one step forward in improving conditions and living standards for these distressed communities.


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