History tells us that minority governments in Canada can be shaky and unpredictable. But along with volatility and risk, there’s also an upside for political leaders who choose cooperation over conflict.

One such opportunity lies in government-wide policies that will set Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples on a solid path toward reconciliation and unleash economic growth throughout all regions of Canada. 

During the election campaign, all major parties recognized the growing gap in living standards between Indigenous peoples and the rest of Canada and the dire need for decent housing, clean water and better living conditions for many First Nations, MĂ©tis and Inuit communities.

While increasing funding in a timely way is part of the solution, the reality is that government transfers on their own will never be enough to open the doors to the prosperity that most Canadians enjoy.

Progress must be based on forging a new fiscal relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples that will benefit all Canadians by enabling Indigenous people to participate more fully in the Canadian economy.

One step toward establishing this new relationship involves taking care of some unfinished business from the last Parliament. Bill C-262, which would have ensured that Canada harmonized its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), died in the Senate when the election was called. In the meantime, the BC government has picked up the mantle by bringing forward its Bill 41 to harmonize the province’s laws with UNDRIP. 

The Prime Minister has indicated that his new minority government will introduce legislation to implement UNDRIP. This provides the other parties with an opportunity to set aside partisanship by embracing this new relationship.

Implementing UNDRIP nationally would ensure that the rights of Indigenous people are respected in Canadian law, including establishing the goal of obtaining their « free, prior and informed consent” to policies and projects that could impact their Aboriginal and treaty rights.

Indigenous peoples must also have access to the tools required to build their economies.

One of the many discriminatory consequences of the Indian Act of 1876 is that it blocked First Nations from participating in the economy in any meaningful way. The First Nations Fiscal Management Act (FMA), which passed with all-party support in 2005, empowers First Nations to break through those Indian Act barriers to develop their economies and improve their health and well-being.

The FMA is an unprecedented example of consensus building; it gave life to three First Nations-led institutions: the Financial Management Board, the First Nations Tax Commission and the First Nations Finance Authority.

Two hundred and eighty-two First Nations have passed formal band council resolutions to opt into the FMA, and you can see the results. An estimated 6,786 jobs have been created, generating revenues to finance critical new infrastructure such as schools, community centres, housing and health care facilities.

The Financial Management Board has enabled 155 of these First Nations to achieve Financial Performance Certification, which has in turn allowed them to borrow roughly $720 million on the bond markets through the First Nations Finance Authority. In addition, 30 percent of First Nations now have taxation powers and impose property taxes on lands within their territories.

Our data has shown that First Nations that have received financial certification show a higher ranking on Statistics Canada’s Community Well-Being Index and have experienced a 64 percent increase in own-source revenues.

Among the remarkable success stories that have emerged is Opaskwayak Cree Nation, which was insolvent in 2016. Using the tools provided by the FMA, Chief Christian Sinclair and his northern Manitoba First Nations community were able to erase a $4-million deficit and post a surplus of almost $15 million last year. Opaskwayak has developed and invested in several thriving businesses to help free the next generation from poverty.

Our three First Nations institutions joined with the Lands Advisory Board in May to sign a protocol that commits our respective organizations to working cooperatively on common initiatives. These range from accessing 10-year federal government grants to acting on climate change.

The impact of the FMA will only grow. Legislative amendments from 2018 allow more First Nations organizations such as health authorities, education facilities, tribal councils and self-governing First Nations to use the tools the legislation provides.

An analysis done by the Indigenomics Institute found that unleashing the power of Indigenous communities has the potential to provide a $100-billion boost to the Canadian economy. That’s good for Indigenous people, of course, but it’s also good for everyone including the middle class.

When Parliament convenes on Thursday, December 5, leaders of the parties whose initial support gave rise to the FMA in 2005 will have a historic opportunity to follow the path of economic reconciliation for the benefit of all Canadians. 

Photo: Little Grand Rapids First Nation in Northern Manitoba. Shutterstock by Marielle Landor.

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Harold Calla

Harold Calla is a member of the Squamish Nation in British Columbia. He serves as executive chair of the First Nations Financial Management Board, as a board member of Trans Mountain Corporation and on the Joint Assembly of First Nations-Indigenous Services Canada Committee on Fiscal Relations.

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