Tri government protocol underwhelming, say opposition leaders

A protocol signed on Monday by Yukon First Nations, the territory and Ottawa is just another piece of paper the government can file away and forget,…

A protocol signed on Monday by Yukon First Nations, the territory and Ottawa is just another piece of paper the government can file away and forget, said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

“First Nations are struggling to implement their land claims and we haven’t seen anything announced that’s going to change that,” said Mitchell.

“We have an agreement by everybody that we need to work together. I thought we already had that. We seem to be awash in protocols and memorandums of understanding.”

Signed during a visit from Chuck Strahl, minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, the agreement will ensure “better collaboration and information sharing” while working towards full final agreement implementation.

The three parties agreed to regular meetings.

Other highlights pointed out by Ottawa include working “co-operatively to implement First Nations’ final land claim and self-government agreements.”

All Yukoners will benefit from the renewed relationship and successful meetings, said Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Andy Carvill.

“It’s critical to all Yukoners that we put emphasis and support behind the final agreements,” he said.

“Through collaboration we can be an example for First Nations across Canada, and we’re already working and sharing knowledge of how the final agreements are changing the lives of First Nations here.”

The protocol allows the three governments to fine tune the implementation process, said Strahl.

“We don’t have to wait for full implementation before we start making improvements,” he said.

Holding official intergovernmental forums will keep up political pressure and will serve as progress reports, added Strahl.

Regular meetings will stop Ottawa from “ruling by fiat,” he said. “No one wants an arbitrary decision coming from Ottawa.

“We understand, not all the biggest and best ideas are found in Ottawa. The government can be the one closer to the people.”

Money wasn’t discussed at the meetings.

Lack of funding from Ottawa has been cited as the big hurdle to implementation, according to an auditor general’s report.

Talking about money before knowing the true cost of implementation is inappropriate, said Premier Dennis Fentie.

The territorial and federal governments are conducting a review of Yukon land claims. Results have not been made public, but the territory has indicated that it called for more federal money to support devolution.

Echoing the premier’s comments, Strahl said Ottawa will also wait for the completion of the review.

“It’s impossible to comment on a review of base expenditures that’s not done,” said Strahl.

The protocol is nothing new, especially if the actions aren’t there to back up the words, said NDP leader Todd Hardy.

“We can sign protocols until the cows come home, but that doesn’t mean the cows will get milked,” he said.

“People expect more from governments now. People can only trust these protocols for so long before they come jaded.”

Conducting regular meetings is a positive step, but only if they result in improving First Nation self-governments, he added.

“These can’t just be fishing trips for politicians,” said Hardy.

Contact Jeremy Warren at: jeremyw@yukon-news.com

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