Poilievre announces consultations with First Nations on resource revenues

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, centre, speaks to media with Blueberry River First Nation Chief Judy Desjarlais, Ontario MP Jamie Schmale, Cayoose Creek Chief Michelle Edwards and Nak'azdli Whut'en councillor Fred Sam in Vancouver on Tuesday.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, centre, speaks to media with Blueberry River First Nation Chief Judy Desjarlais, Ontario MP Jamie Schmale, Cayoose Creek Chief Michelle Edwards and Nak'azdli Whut'en councillor Fred Sam in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

The federal Conservative leader says he's launching countrywide consultations between First Nations and industry leaders on a proposed opt-in policy for First Nations to share the revenue generated by resource development on their lands.

Pierre Poilievre announced the move Tuesday at a news conference in Vancouver, where he endorsed a proposed "First Nations resource charge" and pledged to deploy his stable of parliamentary critics to lead the talks.

Willing First Nations could choose to collect more resource revenues from projects on their lands, Poilievre said, suggesting the federal government could offset the extra costs incurred by the resource sector by "ceding tax room" to them.

While he acknowledged companies already sign agreements with First Nations, he called the process ad hoc, bureaucratic and clouded with uncertainty, and that it ends up lining the pockets of lawyers, consultants and lobbyists.

"For hundreds of years, First Nations people have suffered under a broken system that gives power over their lives to a faraway government in Ottawa that decides for them," he said.

"That government has decided badly."

WATCH | Pierre Poilievre on resource revenue sharing with First Nations:

The surprise announcement represents one of the first times Poilievre has taken a detailed policy position on Indigenous issues since winning the Tory leadership race in 2022.

His political opponents criticized him earlier this month for delivering a speech to a Winnipeg-based think-tank known for downplaying the devastating harm residential schools had on Indigenous children.

Poilievre has made controversial comments in the past — including questioning the value of residential school compensation in 2008 on the same day prime minister Stephen Harper apologized for the system.

John Desjarlais, board chair of the Indigenous Resource Network, which was founded in 2020 and advocates on behalf of Indigenous communities who support resource development, was in the room for the announcement. He said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the consultations, and will adopt a "wait and see" approach on what they produce.

"It felt more sincere. It felt less paternal. It felt like treating Indigenous people with respect," said Desjarlais.

"It felt like there was a sincere desire to sit down with Indigenous communities as equals and to solve problems as equals."

Desjarlais said he felt Poilievre's attack on the "incompetent and intransigent" bureaucracy, who the Tory leader accused of mismanaging Indigenous affairs, hit the right notes.

"It felt like a fundamental shift," Desjarlais said.

He added it wasn't immediately clear from the discussions whether "ceding tax room" meant a tax break for companies who adopt the program.

'What does it really mean?'

Not everyone was immediately optimistic, however.

Poilievre made the announcement in British Columbia, which Neskonlith Kukpi7 (Chief) Judy Wilson calls the epicentre of the climate crisis, enduring catastrophic flooding, wildfires and a deadly heat dome in recent years.

"Many of our communities are still struggling to recover from that. Some members aren't even home yet from those catastrophes," said Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

"Those are things to think about. Before we can call it an economic vision, it has to be an inclusive one."

Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC
Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC

Several high-profile standoffs and court cases between First Nations and industry have also played out in B.C. in recent years.

Wilson said Poilievre's speech ignored the complicated issues around territorial jurisdiction, Indigenous land rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

"I didn't hear anything about how that's going to be implemented," said Wilson, who was not in the room for the announcement Tuesday.

"In some nations, the proper title holders are not just the elected chief and councils. That has to be determined by the nations … It sounds like good words, but you've got to look at: What does it really mean?"

Poilievre said "there are many questions that such a proposal will provoke," but he touted the "First Nations resource charge" proposed by the First Nations Tax Commission as the "most promising outline" for his policy.

The proposed policy would be strictly voluntary, the Tory leader said, and not affect provincial taxes or royalties, though he suggested provinces could choose to match or build upon the charge.

Nothing about the model would prevent First Nations from also continuing to demand other economic and social benefits from resource projects, Poilievre added.