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Wildrose Party leader takes on critic’s role for Aboriginal Relations
Danielle Smith is making a commitment to Alberta’s Aboriginal people: she will be asking hard hitting questions in the Legislature and their issues will not be pushed to the back burner.
Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party, the province’s new Official Opposition, has taken on the critic’s role for the Aboriginal Relations portfolio.
“For me this is a vital role for the premier of the province to play. If I had become premier, I would have made intergovernmental affairs and Aboriginal relations my portfolio,” said Smith. “As leader of the Official Opposition, I feel exactly the same way. Building these bridges is vital for anyone who wants to lead this province.”
Travelling through Alberta over the past two and a half years and most recently during the election campaign, Smith said she heard from both First Nations and Métis leaders who don’t believe the province is giving full attention to the multitude of concerns voiced by Aboriginal people.
“The more Aboriginal leaders I meet with the more I have realized that the bulk of their issues are not with the federal government. The bulk of their issues are actually with the provincial government,” she said.
“Every single bill that comes through we have to look at it through the lens of ‘does it impact our Aboriginal communities?’” said Smith. Full consultation, “not just lip service,” needs to be carried out.
Some bills – those that deal with economic development such as forestry, oil and gas - are more obvious. But other bills, such as Bill 2, the Education Act, which includes allowing students to return to school and be fully funded until the age of 21, has a financial impact on First Nations but there was no consultation. There is also no consultation – and no accountability, Smith said – when it comes to federal dollars presented to the province to be used for urban Aboriginal purposes.
“We need to do consultation with our Aboriginal leaders to find out how they want those dollars spent, how they want that accountability to work,” she said.
The difficulty the Redford government faces, said Smith, is the way the Progressive Conservative’s have built their relationship with Aboriginal peoples.
“The relationship between the provincial government and the Aboriginal leaders seems to have deteriorated and this is very serious,” she said. “It seems like the only time (the province) engages with … our Aboriginal communities is when there’s a thorny development issue that has to be dealt with. So you’re constantly putting yourself at the position where you’re at the negotiation table and it’s a relationship built on conflict.”
Smith said she would do it differently.
“I believe you build the relationship, you identify the issues in the community that are causing problems and that builds up friendship and partnership so that when the thorny issues come up, you actually have a base of friendship to go forward on in your negotiations,” she said.
Smith adds she hopes new Aboriginal Relations Minister Robin Campbell embraces this approach which would allow Aboriginal communities to become “full contributing partners in the incredible prosperity of this province.”
The Alberta First Nations Energy Centre is one way Smith can see First Nations benefiting from Alberta’s booming economy. She said Wildrose Party Energy critic Jason Hale will be pushing that.
Dritfpile First Nation Chief Rose Laboucan is cautiously optimistic about Smith’s decision to prioritize Aboriginal concerns.
“We did talk to her and spend some time with her (during the election campaign) and that was our request also to Wildrose, that we wanted a stand-alone (ministry),” said Laboucan.
However, Laboucan adds she is not yet clear on what the Wildrose Party’s intentions are when it comes to Alberta’s First Nations.
“Hopefully this is going to be a positive and not a negative,” she said.
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