A private member's bill designed to cut First Nations in on the profits being reaped from the harvest of resources within their territories is stalled in committee because the Ontario provincial government doesn't want to see it pass, claims Gilles Bisson.
It's been more than a year since Bisson, NDP member of provincial parliament for Timmins-James Bay, introduced Bill 97, the First Nations Resource Revenue Sharing Act, 2004.
If passed into law, the bill would guarantee First Nations a share in the revenues from natural resources extracted from their traditional lands.
Under the act, representatives of resource companies, First Nations, the provincial government "and any other parties that they mutually agree should be represented" would be required to work together to negotiate a comprehensive agreement on revenue sharing. In cases where an agreement can't be reached within three years of the start of negotiations, an arbitrator would be brought in, and would have one year to arrive at an agreement, which would then be binding on all parties.
The bill received first and second reading in June 2004 and then was sent before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs.
David Ramsey, minister of Natural Resources and minister Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, has said he is opposed to the bill because it involves business in the discussion of resource sharing.
"The private sector doesn't own the resources, doesn't manage the resources. As the government ... we assess royalties to the use of resources. The companies ... have been granted a privilege to extract resources. Directly, it doesn't involve the companies. It's the government's responsibility," said Ramsey.
Bisson said resource revenue sharing with First Nations is long overdue and that he introduced Bill 97 in an attempt to bring funds into impoverished communities.
"What the government is doing, they're keeping it stuck in committee and they are not allowing it to get to third reading so that there is a further vote, because according to Ramsey's position the government would have to vote against it. And I guess on the 100th anniversary of the signing of Treaty Nine ... they don't want to vote against it," said Bisson.
Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation supports the bill because it is all First Nations have at this point. He said the government should allow Bill 97 to pass.
"It would be a positive message from the government of Ontario and would show our people the province values its relationship as a treaty partner. If Bill 97 isn't passed, it would send a very negative message from Ontario to our people and our youth by showing the government is not prepared to partner with First Nations in a meaningful way," Beardy said in a press release.
More consultation with First Nations is needed before any decisions are made regarding resource sharing, Ramsey said, adding that, while the previous Ontario government didn't consult with First Nations, the McGinty government is part of a new era of engagement.
"We want to ensure that ... Aboriginal people in Ontario are included, are a part of the prosperity of this province, and that hasn't been the case. They have been left behind," said Ramsey.
Ramsey described a northern roundtable in which discussions with First Nations about resource sharing would take place.
"We need to sit down and discuss how we are going to do this, and what would be the appropriate method to have these discussions. That is going to start this fall, scheduled for October," he said."It is going to be government to government."
Beardy said First Nations have heard this kind of talk from the government over the past 100 years and doesn't believe that the situation has changed.
"They haven't offered to meet with us," said Beardy. "Where is the offer."
There's been speculation that Ramsey is delaying Bill 97 in order to introduce his own legislation and avoid te embarrassment of having the NDP get credit for introducing resource sharing with First Nations in Ontario. Bisson said he would support a bill giving First Nations their piece of the pie, no matter what party banner flies over it.
"If they want to introduce a bill and call it the Ramsey/McGinty Resource Sharing Act, then I will vote for it first, second and third reading on the spot," he said. He also said he is willing to have business involvement dropped from the bill if it will help get it passed.