Skip to main content
first ministers’ meeting

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with first ministers and national indigenous leaders during the First Ministers Meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Indigenous leaders who were given a brief opportunity to lay their issues before Canada's First Ministers say they are frustrated with the small amount of time devoted to their concerns and they expect more discussion and real progress in the months ahead.

Representatives of the First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis met for a little more than an hour on Tuesday morning with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers before the First Ministers met in private to discuss the economy.

The leaders of the Indigenous organizations said after the meeting that they were pleased to have time with the federal and provincial leaders, but the reconciliation they have been promised is too slow in coming.

And one chief said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard refused, in the closed-door meeting, to move on Indigenous issues until the federal government agrees to open the Constitution to formally recognize the distinct nature of his province.

"We got the Quebec Premier, he says, 'Listen, we're not going to do anything until the Constitution opens up,'" said Isadore Day, the Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, who was part of the AFN delegation. "If we've got one region saying, 'We're not going to move on self-government or Indigenous rights until the Constitution opens up,' it's simply that First Nations are being held hostage."

Mr. Couillard did not emerge from the meeting at the lunch hour to comment.

But Mr. Day said the time for "aspirational" statements between Canadian governments and Indigenous people is over.

"We should be talking about substantive, hard-core deadlines," he said. When Mr. Trudeau appears before the chiefs of the AFN at their annual assembly in December, Mr. Day said, he must come with something concrete on how to move forward on repairing the relationship between Canada and its First peoples "because this First Ministers' meeting is nothing but just words and we were shuffled out of the room again …"

Perry Bellegarde, the AFN's National Chief, said the meeting with the First Ministers provided little time to make significant progress in the lives of Indigenous people. He asked the Prime Minister and the premiers to have a future meeting at which First Nations, Inuit and Métis issues are the only items on the agenda, a request he said was met with "a nodding of heads."

Natan Obed, the president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which advocates on behalf of Canada's roughly 50,000 Inuit, said any conversation with the Prime Minister and the premiers is an opportunity to educate the country's leaders about the income inequality, poor health outcomes, and a lack of infrastructure in the North.

But on Tuesday, "we didn't have a lot of time to discuss anything other than the principles around the issues and I do hope that we can work with relevant premiers and this government at the federal level to implement a lot of the changes that we know are necessary," Mr. Obed said. "I don't think that, in this time of reconciliation, we have had enough time with premiers and the Prime Minister in a shared space to work through some of the big challenges that we do have."

Clément Chartier, the president of the Métis National Council, said he used the brief time he was given to press the premiers and the Prime Minister to consider the Métis when they draw up their next budgets. "We need to start moving on a nation-to-nation, government-to-government basis, and we can't just keep giving lip service to that," he said.

Tax changes were top of mind for premiers as they entered the meeting. Finance Minister Bill Morneau will discuss his government's proposals with the premiers later on Tuesday.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, an outspoken critic of the tax reform proposals, urged the Liberals to drop them.

"The federal government needs to pull back on this rather misguided proposition that we should have class warfare in our country between small, family-run businesses and everyone else," he said.

"The trouble is the poisoned water that this discussion had around it from the very beginning."

B.C. Premier John Horgan was more measured, saying he has heard from concerned small businesses, but also from regular people who "are trying to get their head around how someone with $250,000 or more in income isn't paying any taxes."

"The Finance Minister needs to find a balance, and I expect that when he makes his presentation that's what he's going to hear from the premiers," he said.

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna said he too will encourage the government to drop its tax proposals.

"Our economy is very fragile, and this is going to put a lot of other needless hardship on our small businesses," he said. "When people are succeeding, there's no reason to penalize them for succeeding."

Follow Gloria Galloway on Twitter: @glorgalOpens in a new window
Follow Laura Stone on Twitter: @l_stoneOpens in a new window

Report an error

Editorial code of conduct

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

Follow the author of this article:

Check Following for new articles

Interact with The Globe