It is looking increasingly likely that Jim Prentice will reform the First Nations treaty negotiation process. Specifically, he is considering giving the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) the authority to make legal rulings and thus settle agreements.
While the full implications of this decision need to be weighed one part that is a positive development is getting these negotiations out of the hands of INAC. It must be difficult for First Nations to believe that the government is negotiating in good faith when the party they are negotiating with is the same party that provides all their services. This point became the basis for a discussion paper I submitted to the Aboriginal Report to the Liberal Renewal Commission and shared as a post on the Dominion Institute Blog.
“On the one hand, INAC is First Nations’ key partner, essential to ensuring service delivery, representing them and their issues at the cabinet table, and enabling them to raise critical issues in other government ministries. On the other hand, it is also their negotiation counterpart with whom it may be necessary to lock horns and disagree with to ensure a fair and equitable interpretation of their treaty (or in the case of aboriginal groups in British Columbia, to secure a treaty).”
It would appear that even Jim Prentice recognizes the perceived conflict of interest in having his department simultaneously represent First Nations interests within cabinet while negotiating against them… During an interview on Question Period he apparently conceded: “There has been a complaint in this country for 60 years that the government of Canada serves as the defendant and the judge and the jury and the research body. And that it’s too much. And the government of Canada is in conflicting roles. And that’s something that we are trying to get to the heart of.”
So moving negotiations out of INAC is a plus. But their remains the question of whether an independent committee like the ICC will be any more legitimate. I’ve argued that the way forward is the establishment of an independent secretariat – with its head reporting directly to cabinet – as the home for these negotiations. Both sides need to represent their interests, handing the process over to a third party probably does not accomplish that. More importantly, an independent may be faster but it is also unclear if it will be more legitimate then the current process. In short, done incorrectly, this may be create as many problems as it solves…
I’ll pick up on this thread tomorrow. For now, Prentice is off to an interesting start. At least he’s thinking new thoughts. However, my fear is that this line of thinking will devolve into: “Out of INAC and into the fire…”