Head waiter to various Indigenous organizations in Manitoba or leading by example as a successful First Nation man?
Wab Kinew, as the first elected Indigenous Premier in history, has a golden opportunity to set a different course for Indigenous peoples in Manitoba.
Manitobans should adjust their expectations. Having a government led by a First Nation person for the first time does not mean First Nations and Metis people in Manitoba will automatically receive economic prosperity and quality of services that many Manitobans take for granted.
Besides, most aspects of Indigenous policy are set by Ottawa, so we need to be realistic.
When Barack Obama was elected the first black president, many black Americans felt they had a champion for their various causes – whether good or more misguided and downright wrong. Historians differ in opinion, but by and large, Obama fell into the role of president who happened to be black, not the president to serve only black issues and causes.
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Premier Kinew needs to assume that same role.
There are politics to consider. While there are numerous Indigenous people in Manitoba, they are still a minority. Kinew cannot afford to alienate the majority for the sake of certain causes.
Manitoba’s new Premier has two paths open to him.
He can act – to paraphrase Pierre Trudeau – as head waiter to all the various Indigenous organizations in Manitoba and serve their specific causes. This will require wading into divisive issues and political conflicts within Manitoba’s First Nation and Metis communities, potentially estranging those Manitobans who take pride in having the first Indigenous Premier but expect him to work for the benefit of all residents.
Or he can choose the second path, leading by example as a successful First Nation man who inspires Indigenous people with his life story of change and redemption. He can also embrace a prosperity agenda for all Indigenous people in Manitoba.
So far, the Premier is walking the first path with his commemoration of the controversial Louis Riel as an honourary premier. As a Metis, I find this decision to be both contentious and a distraction from issues that matter to Manitobans. Another crucial assessment will be whether the Premier pursues the expropriation of a private campground in Brandon to safeguard a local residential school burial site. Manitobans are deeply concerned about this delicate matter, but there are alternative methods to preserve this site without destroying a local business.
First, to achieve a prosperity path for Indigenous people in Manitoba, the Premier must disavow his previous statements and reject Ottawa’s misguided Net Zero climate fantasy, taking his cue from the recent Supreme Court judgment over Bill C-69, Ottawa’s sweeping environmental impact legislation. The Supreme Court found that Ottawa had encroached into provincial jurisdiction with its plan to impose its challenging green climate agenda on the provinces.
Kinew must join with other premiers in opposing Ottawa’s plans. Those Manitoba Indigenous communities involved in resource projects need freedom from Ottawa’s constant regulatory overreach.
Second, Kinew must reject the NDP’s hostility to resource development by embracing pro-growth mining policies. Additionally, he should enhance the party’s duty to consult and accommodate First Nations policy, making it more conducive to project approvals in the province.
This last step is a no-brainer – seizing the global opportunity to extract battery minerals essential for the upcoming electric vehicle (EV) revolution will lead to quality union jobs.
The prosperity path is the only way forward for Premier Kinew.
Joseph Quesnel is a Senior Research Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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