By Michael Oleksyn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
During a stop in Prince Albert on Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe addressed the controversy around comments made by federal Justice Minister David Lametti about the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement.
The agreement was created in the 1930s and gives administrative control over lands and natural resources to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. In a conversation with First Nations Chiefs and leaders at the national Assembly of First Nations meeting in Ottawa last week, Lametti said he was “looking at” rescinding the agreement.
Moe told reporters that the only way this could happen was through a change in the constitution.
“Saskatchewan most certainly would not be supportive of those changes,” Moe said.
Moe took questions from the media following the budget speech by Finance Minister Donna Harpauer at the Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Tuesday at the Coronet Hotel.
When asked about statements like Lametti’s, he said that they help create the division between the west and Ottawa.
“Those divisions are out there because he didn’t have the good sense to actually answer the question with the only answer that is available to him and that is the federal government does not have jurisdiction when it comes to natural resources,” Moe said.
Moe hopes the federal government, specifically Lametti and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, understands why Saskatchewan, along with Alberta and Manitoba, are upset. He said the best way for the federal government deal with the issue would be to come out and state that they can’t just change the Constitution and that they made a mistake.
Moe said that the initial answer was disappointing and the clarification the Minister put out yesterday was also even more disappointing.
PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte was among a dozen chiefs who raised the issue with Lametti at the AFN General Assembly. Moe said that Lametti did not understand that the constitution could not be changed unilaterally.
“That would be disappointing if this minister of justice doesn’t understand that,” Moe told reporters in Prince Albert. “If he does understand that, then he’s really being disingenuous with the Chiefs (when) he was answering what is a fair question put forward by Chief Hardlotte.”
Moe talked about the good working relationship the province has with Hardlotte and the FSIN when it comes to matters such as community policing.
He said that they still have a good working relationship even though they don’t necessarily agree on everything.
“I mean, with the federal government there is only one answer and it wasn’t given by the Federal Minister of Justice,” Moe said.
“The answer is that the federal government does not cannot unilaterally change the Constitution, in particular when it comes to the jurisdiction over natural resources,” Moe said.
In the future, he hopes to have more communication with Indigenous communities and their leadership.
“It doesn’t mean we agree on every point, but most certainly we’re going to work together,” Moe said.
Moe highlighted the benefits that revenue from selling these natural resources has on the province. He also stated that he doesn’t want anyone to think that they just collect all the revenue and do not put any revenue back into the province.
“The resources are here for everyone’s benefit. We’re building a new hospital in the city of Prince Albert that’s fully provincially funded,” Moe said. “That’s for everyone, whether they’re Indigenous or non-Indigenous.”
Earlier in the day Moe, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson issued a joint statement on the issue.
The statement said the Prime Minister needs to tell Canadians today that his Justice Minister was not speaking on behalf of the federal government when he said he would look at rescinding the 1930 Natural Resources Transfer Agreements with the prairie provinces and stripping away their constitutional authority and control over natural resources.
These agreements recognized that the prairie provinces have the same rights over resources that all of the other provinces already had. Those rights have been fundamental to the people and the economic autonomy of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba for nearly 100 years.
The statement said the federal government cannot unilaterally change the constitution and should not even be considering stripping resource rights away from the three prairie provinces.
All three premiers urged the Prime Minister needs to immediately retract these dangerous and divisive comments by his Justice Minister.
In a news release on Monday the FSIN called on the Prime Minister to support the statement made by Lametti.
“First Nations have long made this claim that the provinces don’t own the natural resources and the Natural Resources Transfer Agreement is an illegal document, therefore the statement by David Lametti is fully supported by First Nations. We are looking forward to exercising our Treaty rights to natural resources in the province,” FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in the release.
“The acknowledgement from the federal government shows a government that wants true reconciliation. This will enable us to make decisions that are going to benefit all of us and our generations to come. Our ancestors are Treaty people and wanted to ensure that we would be able to make a living and prosper just as much as our white brothers and sisters. The sacred covenant was made with the Crown when the jurisdiction over lands and resources was illegal,” he added.
Lametti issued a statement on Tuesday clarifying his position following comments from Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre that the minister “threatened to overturn the constitution and take federal control over provincial resources.” In response, Lametti denied committing the government to reviewing areas of provincial jurisdiction.
“Read my statement, or watch what I actually said,” Lametti wrote. “What I did promise Indigenous partners is what I will always promise Indigenous partners, to listen.”
Michael Oleksyn is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with PRINCE ALBERT DAILY HERALD. LJI is a federaly funded program.