Alberta’s United Conservative Party Under Fire for Indigenous Relations

 By Justin Sibbet

 Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The United Conservative Party has come under fire for their alleged mishandling of Indigenous relations during their term in government.

During an event hosted by the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs (SACPA) in Lethbridge yesterday, two University of Lethbridge professors spoke about several continuing issues in Alberta, including the treatment of the Indigenous population.

One of the speakers, University of Lethbridge Professor of political science, Dr. Yale Belanger, says the UCP has failed Alberta’s Indigenous people, dating back several years.

The university professor says Jason Kenney embraced the idea of originalism, basically believing the constitution should never change.

“The UCP used originalism to emphasize the division of powers,” said Belanger.

He also says the former Premier would actively try to avoid dealing with Indigenous issues.

“The UCP employed a very specific way of looking at the world through an originalist lens to create a policy that ultimately will allow it to bypass any sort of responsibility or any sort of recognition of Indigenous peoples throughout the province,” said Belanger.

However, Lethbridge-East MLA, Nathan Neudorf, says the Kenney government focused heavily on improving Indigenous relations.

“One of the first things that we did was set up the Indigenous Corporations Fund, with a billion dollar back-stop to help Indigenous led businesses,” said Neudorf.

He says the program has been successful as well, with millions of dollars going directly to Indigenous people in Alberta.

“Just this year, as we’re just starting to grow and see these businesses take off, it’s generated over $31 million in revenue that goes straight to those First Nations communities,” said Neudorf.

Furthermore, the Lethbridge MLA says the UCP has taken several steps to ensure a strong relationship with the Indigenous population in Alberta.

“No other government has done as much work with First Nations as we have done,” said Neudorf.

Even so, Neudorf admits there is always work to be done, even if the first four years have been going in the right direction.

“We’ve taken some greats steps forward and hope to have the opportunity to continue to build on some of those early successes,”

said Neudorf.

Still, Belanger says the issues did not end when Kenney left government.

“Danielle Smith is using the exact same talking points, which does not bode well for the future of Indigenous and Alberta relations,” said Belanger.

He says the aim of the UCP is to ensure their own good standing with voters, but this leaves out the Indigenous population.

“The goal is simply to safeguard Alberta’s ongoing economic interests, without really including Indigenous peoples,” said Belanger.

Furthermore, he says that, if elected again, the UCP will continue to operate in this manner.

“This is an institutional element of, now the contemporary UCP policy that will come into play on May 29th,” said Belanger.

Neudorf says the ongoing efforts of the UCP, through the Minister of Indigenous Relations and through direct talks with Indigenous Chiefs and Councils, will continue to help bring the government into a closer relationship with the Indigenous population.

However, he did stress the importance of regular work to ensure relations continue to grow and evolve.

“I don’t think it would ever be one and done with any given Premier, nor should it be. If it’s meant to be a successful, mutually beneficial relationship, it will need ongoing care and attention from both sides,” said Neudorf.

The other speaker during the SACPA event, Dr. Richard Mueller, a professor in the department of economics at the UofL, says there is a lot riding on the upcoming election.

“I think a lot is going to depend on the election and the aftermath of the election,” said Mueller.

He says he doesn’t feel as though the government has accurately represented the people and the democratic process should speak for itself.

“I just want people to get out there and vote,” said Mueller.

The provincial election is set to be held on May 29, 2023.

  Justin Sibbet is a  Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/LETHBRIDGE HERALD/ LJI is a federally funded program


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