Quebec's minister responsible for Indigenous affairs is facing criticism after suggesting certain organizations are slowing the government's ability to enact legislation to improve services for Aboriginal people.
Sylvie D'Amours made the comment while defending the province's slow response to recommendations from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the Viens Commission.
"I try to work collaboratively. I need partners," Sylvie D'Amours said Monday, during a budget review for the Secretariat aux affaires autochtones, which is the provincial body responsible for overseeing the relationship between Indigenous people and the Quebec government.
"I don't need a fourth opposition party."
Indigenous groups, as well as opposition politicians, were quick to pan the remarks.
Viviane Michel, president of Quebec Native Women, said creating lasting solutions to issues faced by Indigenous people can take time, but that organizations like hers want to work with the government to move things forward.
D'Amours's comments won't help with that, Michel said.
"I deplore the way the minister, the one who represents us, made those comments. She could have been more diplomatic and caused less of a stir," Michel said.
She said D'Amours might need a better understanding of Indigenous realities.
"I've noticed the way she handles certain situations in public," Michel said. "Sometimes, it's inappropriate."
"We are not an opposition," Michel said.
Opposition parties questioned D'Amours on her statement at the meeting.
"When you say you don't need a fourth opposition party, are you referring to the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador (AFNQL)?" interim Parti Québécois leader and the party's spokesperson for Indigenous affairs Pascal Bérubé asked D'Amours at the budget review.
Without answering the question directly, D'Amours said that on several occasions, her government was keen to respond to recommendations in the two reports, but that certain Indigenous organizations were not working with her to determine which of the dozens of recommendations should be given priority.
"If we can't prioritize, how can we budget?" D'Amours said.
Official Opposition critic for Indigenous affairs Gregory Kelley then asked about the 142 recommendations presented by Commissioner Jacques Viens.
D'Amours said the government is actively working on about 45 of them, without specifying which ones. She said she had set a date to meet with Indigenous leaders and prioritize calls to action.
"Unfortunately, we are living with COVID, and everything has been shaken up a bit," D'Amours said. "A month ago, we were ready to resume discussions. All replied saying they were ready, except the AFNQL."
The 2020-2021 provincial budget provides $219.2 million over six years to improve quality of life for Indigenous communities.
But the planned annual $40 million has not yet been used, D'Amours said at the meeting.
A spokesperson for D'Amours's office said in a statement that her comments served to remind all parties to work together.
"From the beginning, we have reiterated that we want to work together with all representatives who wish to do so, and that is still the case," the statement said.