Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The race to form Alberta’s next provincial government is contentious and neck-and-neck between the incumbent United Conservative Party (UCP) and the New Democratic Party (NDP).
As the days to next Monday’s election count down, there is one thing the two party leaders agree on— the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation (AIOC).
During the May 18 leadership debate, the leaders were asked to acknowledge one specific policy that was implemented by the other that they supported. NDP leader Rachel Notley identified AIOC, a new Crown corporation created by the UCP government in 2020 under former premier Jason Kenney.
AIOC had been a campaign promise Kenney ran on in the 2019 provincial election. Kenney was replaced as party leader and premier by Danielle Smith last October.
“We like (AIOC),” said Notley. “We’re going to expand it. We’re going to expand the number of opportunities that would qualify for that kind of support with Indigenous communities across the province.”
The NDP’s platform includes consulting with Indigenous communities on how to expand AIOC.
AIOC was created initially to provide loan guarantees to natural resource projects only. In February 2022, the UCP expanded AIOC’s mandate to financially backstop projects and related infrastructure in the agricultural, transportation and telecommunications sectors.
AIOC has $1 billion of Alberta government funding for loan guarantees. To date AIOC has supported four investments to the amount of $408 million, with the last project at $250 million and involving 23 First Nations and Métis communities.
“The Indigenous Opportunities Corporation has been so successful, I think, in addressing true economic reconciliation,” responded Smith in the debate. However, she did not single out any NDP policy that she supported.
According to the UCP platform, a UCP government will double AIOC’s loan capacity to $2 billion, as well as expand investment opportunities to include manufacturing, health care and tourism.
UCP targets for Indigenous peoples
Scott Sinclair is the UCP candidate in Lesser Slave Lake. He is non-status First Nation and the only Indigenous candidate running under the governing party’s banner.
Sinclair says the top concerns he’s heard from people in his riding, which the 2021 Canada Census pegs as over half the population being Indigenous, deal with local economic opportunities, health care and building up infrastructure.
Sinclair points to the recent agreement signed by the UCP government with three First Nations to create a 218-kilometre economic corridor to connect Fort McMurray to Peerless Lake.
He wants to see Highway 88 in his riding, which goes from Slave Lake to Fort Vermilion, become the next economic corridor.
“Good paying jobs in our region, that's definitely the number one concern I'm getting,” said Sinclair.
To that end, along with committing to enhancements to AIOC, the UCP platform includes an extra $25 million for Indigenous equity venture capital funds.
Other items specific to Indigenous peoples in the UCP platform are building more addiction treatment centres in partnership with Indigenous communities; and Swan River First Nation as a location for affordable seniors housing as the UCP commits to $1 billion over the next three years across the province.
The UCP platform includes no specific category for Indigenous relationships or commitments.
NDP commitment to Indigenous inclusion
Katherine Swampy, running in Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin, is one of five Indigenous candidates for the NDP.
Swampy, who is from Samson Cree Nation, says the “chaos” of the healthcare system, including lack of family physicians, figures prominently in the concerns she has heard, along with overcrowded classrooms and rundown school buildings as an education system that needs help.
The lack of dependable Internet and cellphone services has also been raised and “the NDP is talking about having a universal broadband to every Albertan and all areas,” said Swampy. She points to the lessons learned during COVID when teaching and business went online and Indigenous communities suffered.
The NDP continues to roll out its commitments, including those directed at Indigenous inclusion or involvement.
Among those most urgent commitments is working with Indigenous communities, who are in the heart of the wildfires. The NDP says, “We will help communities rebuild from this season’s fires and work together on fire suppression and prevention for the rest of this and future seasons.”
The NDP promises to repeal the Sovereignty Act and respect the nation-to-nation relationship as recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). In 2010, the NDP approved an Indigenous Peoples policy book that incorporated the UN declaration.
The Sovereignty Act was the cornerstone of Smith’s campaign for UCP leadership and it was the first bill introduced by her government. The Sovereignty Act allows the province to fight against federal laws which Alberta deems to infringe upon exclusive provincial jurisdiction. It was met with criticism from chiefs who said it eroded treaty rights that are held with Canada and not Alberta. They were also critical of not being consulted during any stage of the bill becoming law.
The Sovereignty Act is being challenged in court by the Onion Lake Cree Nation.
The NDP is also committing to “significantly strengthen the capacity” of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) with a “clear and adequate legislative mandate.” The AER came under fire earlier this year when it waited months to inform Indigenous communities of tailings ponds seepage from Imperial Oil’s Kearl oil sands mine site located upstream from the communities.
The NDP is proposing to collaborate with Indigenous Nations in the co-creation of an Alberta Water Stewardship Group for the Eastern Slopes; to co-develop a new Indigenous Housing Strategy for off-reserve housing; and to support employment, land management, and environmental monitoring programs of parks with Indigenous Nations.
A 10-point comprehensive public safety plan, which calls for addressing root causes of social disorder, is Indigenous heavy. The NDP is calling for Indigenous-led outreach through Indigenous teams and culturally appropriate and trauma-informed approaches. The NDP also wants to see long-term agreements with municipalities established that support Indigenous partnerships.
The NDP says it will work with Indigenous communities to implement the Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action regarding access to health care, new child welfare relationships, language restoration and preservation.
The NDP has also committed to no ticketing of those who exercise the right to harvest or hunt.
Indigenous framework from the Green Party
Indigenous voters are talking about sovereignty and self-governance, says Tigra-Lee Campbell, candidate in Vermilion-Lloydminister-Wainwright.
Campell, whose father is Indigenous and mother is Jamaican, is one of five Indigenous candidates for the Green Party.
“One of (the Green Party’s) policies is to adopt UNDRIP and use that as a social framework and not just say, ‘Yeah, we're going to use it,’ but to actually implement it so that we can have informed consent moving forward. That just proves the commitment to Indigenous sovereignty and governance,” said Campbell.
In her campaigning, Campbell says she has also heard concerns about safe and secure communities, sustainable jobs, and healthcare in rural Alberta.
Campbell stresses that the Greens are more than a one-issue party focused solely on environment.
Investment in people’s well-being is necessary, she said, because “when you don't know where you're going to sleep, you don't know where your next meal is going to come from, your priorities are a lot different. You're not really thinking about that environmental piece.”
The Green Party’s 2023 platform puts the sovereignty of Indigenous Nations, treaty obligations, traditional knowledge, rights and consultation at the forefront of its Climate Change, Environment and Disaster Readiness.
“All development or natural resource projects would require the full consent of impacted Indigenous communities. If consent is granted, projects would be subject to revenue sharing and co-management with them. We would make Indigenous communities active partners in preserving and protecting watersheds, natural environments, and prime agriculture lands,” states the Green Party.
The Greens also prioritize clean drinking water; $10-a-day childcare for culturally appropriate Indigenous-led childcare services; the Alberta Resilience Corps, a new program which focuses on unemployment sectors, including Indigenous Nations; and a comprehensive public healthcare system.
Alberta Party on Indigenous Relationships
Setting aside seats in the Alberta legislature for Indigenous people is not part of the Alberta Party’s official platform, but Edmonton-Castledowns candidate Patrick Stewart says it’s something that needs to be considered.
“I've actually had a chance to discuss it with our leader (Barry Morishita), and I'm glad to say that there were no objections raised,” said Stewart, who is Métis and one of two Indigenous candidates for the Alberta Party.
Stewart is proposing that the number of seats reflects the Indigenous population, which presently accounts for six-and-a-half per cent of Albertans, according to Indigenous Services Canada.
“By doing this, it can also help different political parties work together better. Canada is going through changes, and we want to make sure that these changes are positive for everyone. By including Indigenous voices in our government, we can guide these changes to make Canada a better place for everyone,” said Stewart.
However, at this point, the Alberta Party’s policies for Indigenous Relationship centre on implementing the Calls to Action from the TRC; educating the public service, with guidance from Indigenous Albertans, about Indigenous history and issues; and protecting Métis harvesting rights. These policies were all passed at the party’s 2016 annual general meeting.
A 2022 policy calls for examining the current state of the justice system and how it impacts disadvantaged segments of the population, including Indigenous people, and providing recommendations for improvement.
Stewart says people in his riding are tired of polarized politics and “are feeling division and tension in the binary political mess we find ourselves in.”
“The current race is incredibly tight, and if we were to achieve a minority government, it would be the best outcome. This would force external parties to work with the smaller parties as swing votes,” said Stewart. “(This) is what I call the ‘perfect political storm of change.’"
The four parties Windspeaker.com has featured in this article are the parties with Indigenous candidates.
Fourteen parties are running in this election, with only the UCP and NDP having full slates of 87 candidates each. Half the parties have less than 15 candidates. The Green Party has a slate of 41, while the Alberta Party is running 19.
There are 13 Indigenous candidates.
Going into this election, the UCP had 60 seats, the NDP had 23 and there were two independent members. Both independent members had been elected under either the UCP or NDP banner before leaving their respective parties to sit on their own. Two seats were vacant. There were no Indigenous Members of the Legislative Assembly.
Advance voting began today. The election is May 29.
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Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.