By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
When Quebec Premier Francois Legault appointed Pierre Fitzgibbon to the portfolio of economy and energy as minister last week, discussion of handing Fitzgibbon a `superministry’ down the road for Quebec economic development continued — a notion that makes one First Nations leader very uncomfortable.
“This would be very bad news for First Nations, who have nothing to gain from a superminister for economy,” said Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador Chief Ghislain Picard.
Picard said the strained relationship between the government and First Nations in Quebec gives him pause given the `particularly difficult’ relationship First Nations have had with Legault’s Coalition Avenir Quebec government.
Faced with an oft-oppositional relationship with the provincial government, the AFNQL has chosen to get into business with corporations and civil organizations that would like to build business relationships with First Nations, and thus put together the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec, held last November.
In the wake of that event, more than 150 organizations, including provincial-run Hydro-Quebec, adopted a declaration stating, “the current socio-economic context of the Indigenous peoples does not allow for individual or collective development, in particular to eliminate the enormous gap that separates the living conditions of Indigenous people from those of Quebecers.”
What Picard discovered in the process of creating that roundtable was that many corporations are far more open to working with First Nations peoples than Legault’s government.
“Unlike the Quebec government, civil society, business, and municipal organizations are not afraid of the rights of Indigenous peoples,” Picard said. “On the contrary, they are quite prepared to recognize the distinct economic development rights of First Nations, that take into account our particularities as nations as well as the historical ties we have with the land.”
After four years of attempting to build bridges with Legault’s government, to almost no avail , Picard said, the idea of a superminister for the economy makes him concerned too much power are in one set of hands
“There are many development projects among all First Nations, but there are also several obstacles that hinder the growth of our communities. The Government of Quebec has a broad responsibility in this regard, as it is able to act as both a facilitator and an obstructor,” Picard said. “The choice of appointing certain people at the head of key ministries can have significant impacts on the future of our communities. We therefore sincerely hope that the Premier will abandon this idea of putting that much power in the hands of Mr. Fitzgibbon alone.”
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IORI:WASE The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding