Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday his government will not change the agreements which give Prairie provinces control over natural resources after remarks from the minister of justice prompted criticism from the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
“As prime minister, I’m happy to stand here right now and say we will not be touching the [Natural Resources Transfer Agreements],” Trudeau told a news conference.
During a question-and-answer session at the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs meeting last week, some Indigenous leaders criticized the Natural Resources Transfer Agreements (NRTAs) and Prince Albert Grand Council Chief Brian Hardlotte called on the federal government to rescind the laws which enacted the agreements.
The NRTAs were signed in 1930 after the Prairie provinces sought the same control over natural resources enjoyed by other provinces. Justice Minister David Lametti said during the chiefs’ meeting that he’d look into the matter — and acknowledged that it would be controversial.
Lametti’s comments provoked a backlash among the premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They released a joint statement which called on Trudeau to retract Lametti’s remarks. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused Lametti of “threatening to overturn the Constitution.”
WATCH | Trudeau says federal government ‘will not be touching the NRTA’
The agreements were implemented through a series of provincial and federal acts in 1930. Provincial control over natural resources is written into the Constitution Act.
“Natural resources are constitutionally directed to be the purview of the provinces, and we’re not putting that into question,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau again encouraged provinces to work with Indigenous peoples on natural resources as part of the reconciliation project.
“We need to make sure that Indigenous peoples who have lived on this land for millennia are able to participate in the benefits drawn from that land,” Trudeau said.
“Now, what that looks like is, of course, a conversation that … needs to be led by the provinces.”
Trudeau, who was in Saskatchewan Thursday, said he wanted to meet with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe but Moe was out of town.
Some Indigenous organizations and leaders have voiced support for rescinding or changing the NRTAs, saying the agreements were signed without Indigenous consent and consultation and amount to a violation of treaty rights.
Trudeau said Wednesday that Lametti was referring to Canada’s commitment to honour the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). An UNDRIP article says Indigenous peoples have the right to conserve and protect the environment and productive capacity of their lands, territories and resources.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was also in Saskatchewan on Thursday, said he’d like to see the federal, provincial and Indigenous governments work together on natural resources.
“If we’re developing projects on Indigenous land, workers should benefit and the Indigenous community should also benefit,” Singh said.
“So my approach is one where we’ve got to work with provinces, as partners, and work with Indigenous communities as partners to develop projects that actually benefit workers, not billionaires.”