Sask. The first act passes in front of a gallery full of First Nations and Métis people opposed to the bill

Indigenous leaders and groups were before the Saskatchewan Legislature Thursday to oppose passage of the Saskatchewan First Act.  (CBC / Radio Canada - photo credit)

Indigenous leaders and groups were before the Saskatchewan Legislature Thursday to oppose passage of the Saskatchewan First Act. (CBC / Radio Canada – photo credit)

Members of the provincial government voted unanimously to pass the Saskatchewan First Act Thursday before a gallery full of First Nations and Métis community members who had traveled to the legislature to defy the law.

Last fall, the government introduced Bill 88, which said it would confirm the province’s autonomy and responsibility for its natural resources.

The Act “asserts its exclusive legislative jurisdiction under the Canadian Constitution and in particular the matters listed in Sections 92 and 92A of the Constitution Act of 1867.”

The law states that Saskatchewan has jurisdiction over:

  • Exploration of non-renewable resources.

  • Development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural and forest resources.

  • Operation of sites and facilities for generating and generating electricity.

  • Regulation of all industries and companies that fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces.

  • Regulation of fertilizer use.

Premier Scott Moe said the bill would benefit all people of Saskatchewan. He said it is to “prevent federal encroachment on provincial jurisdiction, which is in the best interest of all people in that province.”

The passage of Bill 88 on Thursday was a formality thanks to the Saskatchewan Party government’s majority vote. All of the Saskatchewan Party MLAs present voted in favor of the bill, as did Saskatchewan United Party leader Nadine Wilson.

Opposition NDP members stood up and voted against the bill. While standing, the indigenous guests stood on the gallery in a show of solidarity.

The bill has been criticized by the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), which represents Saskatchewan’s First Nations.

The FSIN said the bill violated treaty rights. On Thursday, the FSIN “reiterated” its opposition to the law and said it wanted to be involved in the sharing of natural resource revenues.

“First Nations leaders believe that the province of Saskatchewan does not have the legal authority to assert exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources because treaties signed with First Nations take precedence and predate the formation of the government,” the FSIN said in a statement .

“FSIN will take legal action to oppose the law as it violates the inherent and treaty rights of First Nations to land, water and resources.”

Last fall, the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S) Legislative Assembly unanimously rejected Bill 88.

The bill was amended ahead of Thursday’s passage. Government MLA for Athabasca Jim Lemaigre made three changes, specifically the following:

“Nothing in the Act supersedes or derogates from the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of Aboriginal peoples of Canada recognized and upheld by Section 35 of the Constitution Act of 1982.”

Moe said the changes were included to clarify that the law does not violate the rights of indigenous people.

“There is no question what the government’s intention is. This law is in no way designed to circumvent or alter or modify the treaty rights to which all Indigenous peoples certainly have access.”

MN-S Vice President calls bill ‘short-sighted’, ‘divisive’

MN-S vice president Michelle LeClair was among the people who sat in the stands and stood up as opposition stood before voting no.

“It was a sign of support for them to say no because we say no, enough is enough.”

LeClair called the bill “short-sighted” and “dismissive.”

“To say that we are deeply disappointed with the passage of this bill would be an understatement.”

LeClair said the bill “could potentially have such an impact on our rights. Our hunting, gathering, our ceremonies, all of these things will be severely restricted.”

Camille Cusset/Radio Canada

Camille Cusset/Radio Canada

LeClair said the government did not meet or consult MN-S on the bill.

“I don’t know who they spoke to. We heard the word dialogue throughout the Minister’s speech. But we had no dialogue or discussions with the provincial government.”

Moe and the government have denied claims they did not consult with First Nations before the bill was introduced last year.

LeClair said Justice Secretary Bronwyn Eyre’s suggestion that the MN-S canceled a meeting was “disingenuous”.

“The consultation has to start early, it has to start before a bill is introduced.”

LeClair said she wrote to the minister to have a “nation-to-nation dialogue,” but received no response.

Opposition witnesses are not allowed to take part in discussions in the committee

On Wednesday, the bill was discussed in committee for more than five hours.

Opposition justice critic Nicole Sarauer wanted Indigenous leaders who had traveled to the committee to be able to take part as witnesses and question Justice Secretary Bronwyn Eyre and officials, but this request was rejected by government officials on the committee.

A government spokesman said on Thursday that the opposition critic had made “numerous surprise applications without prior notice” and that if Sarauer was to have witnesses appear, she “should have written to the committee secretary before the meeting.”

Sarauer said Thursday she believes Bill 88 will not fundamentally change any of the province’s future jurisdictional challenges with the federal government.

She said she believes Bill 88 will be “challenged” by Indigenous leaders in court sooner rather than later.


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