The federal Conservative leader says he is launching nationwide consultations between First Nations and industry leaders on a proposed opt-in policy for First Nations to share the revenue generated by resource development on their lands.
Pierre Poilièvre announced the move Tuesday at a press conference in Vancouver, where he endorsed a proposed “First Nations resource charge” and pledged to use his stable of parliamentary critics to lead the talks.
Willing First Nations could choose to collect more resource revenue from projects on their land, Poilièvre said, suggesting the federal government could offset the additional costs of the resource sector by ceding “tax space” to them.
While acknowledging that companies have already signed agreements with First Nations, he called the process ad hoc, bureaucratic and clouded by uncertainty, ultimately ending up in the pockets of lawyers, consultants and lobbyists.
“For hundreds of years, First Nations people have been burdened by a broken system that gives power of their lives to a distant government in Ottawa that decides for them,” he said.
“The government has made a bad decision.”
LOOK | Pierre Poilièvre on revenue sharing with First Nations:
The surprise announcement is one of the first times Poilièvre has taken a detailed policy stance on Indigenous issues since winning the 2022 Tory leadership race.
His political opponents criticized him earlier this month for giving a speech to a Winnipeg-based think tank known for downplaying the devastating damage residential schools have inflicted on Indigenous children.
Poilièvre has made controversial comments in the past, including questioning the value of residential school compensation in 2008 on the same day Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the system.
John Desjarlais, Chairman of the Board of the Indigenous Resource Network, which was founded in 2020 and advocates for Indigenous communities to support resource development, was in the room for the announcement. He said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the consultations and will take a wait-and-see attitude as to what they yield.
“It felt more sincere. It felt less paternal. It felt like I was treating the indigenous people with respect,” said Desjarlais.
“It felt like there was a genuine desire to sit down with indigenous communities as equals and solve problems as equals.”
Desjarlais said he felt Poilièvre’s attack on the “incompetent and intransigent” bureaucracy, which accused the Tory leader of mismanaging indigenous affairs, hit the right note.
“It felt like a fundamental shift,” Desjarlais said.
He added that it was not immediately clear from the discussions whether the “ceding of tax space” meant a tax break for companies applying the program.
“What does it actually mean?”
However, not everyone was immediately optimistic.
Poilièvre made the announcement in British Columbia that Neskonlith Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson calls the epicenter of the climate crisis, with catastrophic flooding, wildfires and a deadly heat dome in recent years.
“Many of our communities are still struggling to recover from that. Some members are not even home from those disasters,” said Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
“Those are things to think about. Before we can call it an economic vision, it has to be an inclusive vision.”
BC has also seen several high-profile standoffs and lawsuits between First Nations and industry in recent years.
Wilson said Poilièvre’s speech ignored the complicated issues surrounding territorial jurisdiction, indigenous land rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“I haven’t heard anything about how that will be implemented,” said Wilson, who was not in the room for the announcement Tuesday.
“In some countries, the right title holders are not just the elected leader and councils. That has to be decided by the nations… It sounds like fancy words, but you have to look at: What does it really mean?”
Poilièvre said “there are many questions such a proposal will raise”, but he praised the “First Nations Resource Attack” suggested by the First Nations Tax Commission as the “most promising outline” for its policy.
The proposed policy would be strictly voluntary, the Tory leader said, and would not affect county taxes or royalties, though he suggested counties could choose to match or build upon the charge.
Nothing about the model would stop First Nations from continuing to demand other economic and social benefits from resource projects as well, Poilièvre added.