Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is accusing Prairie premiers of distorting the words of his justice minister after comments David Lametti made at a meeting of Assembly of First Nations chiefs last week.
Lametti told the meeting he would commit to “looking at” federal-provincial natural resource transfer agreements, after some chiefs called for Ottawa to repeal the law that gives the four western provinces control over resource development.
The premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba released a joint statement asking Trudeau to “immediately retract these dangerous and divisive comments,” saying the agreements are fundamental to the provinces’ economic autonomy.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs praised what they took as Lametti’s commitment to review the law.
“With First Nations’ rights to self-governance, royalties and compensation for extracting renewable and non-renewable resources should flow directly to First Nations for resources such as potash, oil, gas and minerals,” the federation said in a statement.
Lametti later said that he only promised to listen to Indigenous partners, and did not commit to reviewing areas of provincial jurisdiction.
Trudeau said at a news conference in Winnipeg that the federal government knows it needs to move forward on reconciliation, but premiers are elevating “fears that have no grounding in truth.”
He said the federal government is committed to acting on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and working with Indigenous Peoples to develop land and build a strong economy.
“This is something that, unfortunately, we have seen conservative politicians across the country not take as seriously as either our moral responsibilities or our economic responsibilities would require,” he said.
The drama started after Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte of the Prince Albert Grand Council asked Lametti to rescind the Natural Resources Transfer Act during a question-and-answer session at the special chiefs meeting last Thursday.
“I obviously can’t pronounce on that right now,” Lametti said in response. “But I do commit to looking at that. It won’t be uncontroversial is the only thing I would say, with a bit of a smile.”
Prairie premiers and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said that response was a threat to overturn the constitution and take federal control over provincial resources.
“The federal government cannot unilaterally change the constitution,” the prairie premiers said in their joint-statement. “They should not even be considering stripping resource rights away from the three prairie provinces.”
Poilievre said on Twitter that he would “put westerners in control of their resources and lives.”
On the same platform, Lametti released a statement that said it’s his job to listen to First Nations chiefs’ concerns, but the government’s focus is aligning Canadian laws and policies with the UN declaration.