Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Métis Nation of Alberta (MNA) is appealing a decision delivered early last year by the lower court. That court decided a judicial review was not required of Alberta’s unilateral decision to end five years of negotiations with the MNA on a Métis consultation policy.
At issue before the Alberta Court of Appeal is that Court of King’s Bench Justice Bernette Ho failed to properly consider and apply the Crown’s duty to negotiate. Ho decided the Indigenous Relations minister did not owe the MNA any reasons for terminating negotiations.
But not at issue, argued MNA counsel, is whether the MNA is the only voice of the Métis in the province. That point was highly relied upon by Ho in delivering her decision.
In her decision, Ho said that not only had the MNA failed to prove itself as the sole representative of Métis in Alberta, but the court would not force the provincial government to continue negotiations with the MNA on the Métis consultation policy.
“I am of the view that the relief sought (a judicial review) by the MNA is inappropriate because it seeks a determination of issues that exist, not just between Alberta and the MNA, but between other stakeholders as well,” wrote Ho in her 75-page decision Jan. 4, 2022.
Ho further stated that MNA President Audrey Poitras “opined that there could only be one provincial policy for dealing with non-Settlement Métis, and that it must be developed in collaboration with the MNA.”
But the role of the MNA does not need to be addressed, said the MNA in its factum, a written argument, because who the MNA represents is not the issue before the court.
“The MNA emphasizes that neither this appeal, nor the underlying application, address the question of who represents all individuals that claim to be Métis in Alberta,” reads the factum.
“This appeal is only about what the Minister owed the MNA in relation to the Decision. No one else’s rights or interests are engaged. At its core, this appeal is about one issue: whether the Minister owed the MNA…reasons for terminating negotiations” on the consultation policy.
The factum further states that “the MNA’s longevity, and its ongoing inter-governmental relationships and various agreements with Alberta and Canada, (is evidence of) its effectiveness as a Métis representative body.”
Negotiations between the MNA and the province on a consultation policy spanned two different provincial governments, the New Democratic Party and then the United Conservative Party (UCP).
The UCP government said it was conducting talks with the MNA, Métis locals and other non-settlement Métis communities, especially as it became clearer that some Métis organizations and communities did not want the MNA to speak for them.
Negotiations were terminated by Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson in September 2019, shortly after the UCP came to power.
The MNA argued in its appeal that the minister did not indicate to them that discussions with the Métis locals for a regional approach “were so doomed” that negotiations had to be terminated.
“While the Minister had the option of pursuing another way forward, he was obliged to at least provide some explanation as to why he would no longer pursue negotiations in the face of his government’s longstanding and ongoing relationship with the MNA, as an Indigenous partner, and the history and context he inherited,” states the MNA’s factum.
“The MNA tried to narrow their case after they lost,” said Fort McKay Métis Nation President Ron Quintal about the MNA’s appeal’s argument.
Speaking to Métis representation, however, in the appeal will be the Fort McKay Métis Nation, Cadotte Lake Métis Nation and Willow Lake Métis, who have all been granted intervenor status.
Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson would not speak specifically on the case as it is before the courts.
However, addressing the issue of whether the MNA alone represents the rights of all Métis in the province, Wilson said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to say one group should be…overpowering another.”
He said whether it was the MNA, Métis Settlements General Council, or councils for the non-MNA Métis communities, “they all have their strengths and their weaknesses,” but each was successful in representing their members.
“I think there’s room for all of them. I don’t think one has to be like big brother over the other,” said Wilson.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.