Proactive consultation leads to beneficial partnerships

altonPhoto source: CTV

By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

Controversy has arisen over a recent Nova Scotia government legal brief that described a Mi’kmaq community as a “conquered people.” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, who is also provincial minister of aboriginal affairs, is expected to publicly apologize today (Thursday) for the comments at a public event.

However, what is more important is the context in which the comments were said and what is says about the provincial government’s attitude towards consulting with First Nations.

The brief – which came from the provincial Department of Justice – asserted that the Crown’s obligation to consult extended only to “unconquered people,” and that the band’s submission to the Crown in 1760 negated its claim of sovereignty and negated government’s constitutional duty to consult the First Nation. Alex Cameron, counsel for the department, said Mi’kmaq treaty rights were terminated because of hostilities between the Indigenous communities and the government. This argument flies in the face of a landmark 1999 Supreme Court judgment that treaty rights were not extinguished in the Maritimes.

The context of the comments is a decision by the Sipekn’Katik Indigenous community to ask for a judicial review of a provincial permit approving the controversial Alton Gas storage project. The company involved wants to store natural gas in three underground salt caverns near the Shubenacadie River. Mi’kmaq groups are concerned about the discharge of salty water into the river.

The larger and more important point is that the Nova Scotia government is finding reasons not to consult with First Nations in the province. The province showing good will towards the bands would be a way of building long-term relationships. Simply put, if the provincial government is open to negotiations and is a good faith partner, it will likely lead to more mutually beneficial economic partnerships between resource companies and Indigenous communities. Many bands live near natural resource developments. The National Centre for First Nations Governance says that consultation signals respect for Aboriginal rights, which is of course good for relationship building. Government denial of Aboriginal rights and obstructionism creates bad blood and a future unwillingness to deal as good faith partners.

Political stability is one major factor that third-party investors look for when deciding over investment in projects. One important aspect of that is unresolved concerns by Indigenous communities. The Fraser Institute’s Global Petroleum Survey and its Survey of Mining Companies list Aboriginal consultation protocols and disputed land claims among major concerns when deciding to invest.

Atlantic provincial governments need to learn from Nova Scotia’s mistake and develop proactive consultative relationships with their Indigenous communities. The future of Atlantic resource development depends on it.

Economic Impact of Saudi Arabian Students in Atlantic Canada

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Editor’s note: what follows is the first in a series of posts about Saudi Arabian students in Atlantic Canada. The series will quantify their impact and examine policy implications in Canada and in Saudi Arabia. It is co-authored by Dr. Azad Haider and Jackson Doughart. More about the authors can be found below.

By Azad Haider, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Saint Mary’s University, and Jackson Doughart, AIMS Policy Analyst

Universities are significant contributors to the economy of Atlantic Canada. The Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) documented that universities constitute approximately $2.6-billion yearly in the region’s GDP. More importantly, Atlantic Universities contribute $496-million in federal and provincial taxes and $110-million in the construction of buildings and land development. They are one of the potent ingredients for economic growth in Atlantic Canada.

Over the last decade, international students have emerged as significant contributors to the Canadian economy. In light of this importance, institutions across the country set a target to double the number of international students in the coming years.

International students are a significant source of universities’ revenue, and ultimately to economic activity, due to the differential of fees. International students in Atlantic Canada generate an economic impact of 565-million per year (AAU). Similarly, international students’ economic impact in the Atlantic region is 6.1% of total student spending, with Saudi students contributing a significant amount of that figure. International students also constituted $30-million in federal and provincial tax revenue and $120-million worth of income to universities. Saudi Arabia is the major source of international students in the Atlantic Region. Above, Chart 1 presents the international students enrollment from Saudi Arabia by province from 2008-09 to 2013-14. We can see Nova Scotia’s enrollment has increased significantly, and is second-highest in the country.

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The number of enrolled students here reached 1167 in the year 2013-14 as compared to 120 in the year 2008-09, registering more than a 9-times increase. In other Atlantic provinces in 2013/14, 396 Saudi students were enrolled in New Brunswick, 48 in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 21 in P.E.I.  This large increase in the enrollment is primarily due to the King Abdullah Scholarships for Saudi students to attend North American universities, under which tuition fees and living expenses are covered.

In the next post, we will look at the economic impact of Saudi students and the consequences of losing these contributors with changing policies in Saudi Arabia.

Introducing the Authors
Azad Haider is a Post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Economics at Saint Mary’s University (SMU). He holds a Ph.D in Labour Economics from Federal Urdu University Islamabad, Pakistan. He also holds a M.A. in Economics from Punjab University Lahore. He served as an Assistant professor at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, and before joining COMSATS served as an Assistant Professor in School of Economics in Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. He is also affiliated with the Atlantic Research Group on the Economics of Immigration, Aging, and Diversity (ARGEIAD) at SMU. Mr. Haider has developed his interest in immigration related issues, macroeconomics, environmental and health economics and energy economics. He is currently authoring numerous papers relating to these subjects.

Jackson Doughart is a Policy Analyst for AIMS, and his profile can be found here.

Sen. Christmas Brings Important Insight

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(Senator Daniel Christmas. Photo credit: APTN)

By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

At the end of October, Prime Minister Trudeau appointed a new Indigenous senator from Nova Scotia who may have important insight into improving First Nation communities.

Daniel Christmas of Membertou, an Indigenous community on Cape Breton Island, is believed to be the first Mi’kmaq senator, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself. Christmas also happens to be a First Nation man who was instrumental in helping transform the Indigenous community from near-bankrupt status (along with almost 100% unemployment) to one of the most successful Indigenous communities in Canada. The community back then experienced serious financial management issues. They even struggled at some points with making social assistance payments.

Christmas served on the community’s governing council and has been Membertou’s senior adviser since 1997. Over the years, he was involved in some of the community’s most important developments.

The community now boasts schools, daycares, a convention centre, as well as a hotel, entertainment centre, and a museum development. Membertou has also embraced an economic development model that allows for maintaining some properties in fee simple property ownership status. This decision has allowed the community to use community lands as collateral for loans. The community has declined to convert some of their development lands into reserve lands, which has allowed them to better attract outside investors.

The community went from a deficit to an exploding operating budget. It also has a booming workforce and is a net employer in the Sydney, N.S. region. In 2014, Membertou generated 86 per cent of its revenue through its community businesses, business investments and partnerships. This stands in contrast to so many Indigenous communities that are dependent on federal transfers.

In 2002, Membertou became the first Indigenous government in the world to become ISO certified. ISO, developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), offers independent confirmation that an organization or community has a quality management system. ISO certification demonstrates to outside parties—usually investors and partnering businesses—that the community has standardized its management controls. Some companies only work with ISO-compliant organizations.

With this real-world experience with best practices for Indigenous communities, Christmas is well placed to provide great advice and recommendations on Indigenous issues that the Senate may be confronted with. The Senate leadership needs to put Christmas on the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.

Political parties do not own great ideas. Let’s hope that the prime minister’s new merit-driven, arm’s- length Senate process will select new non-partisan Indigenous senators who understand how we can improve Indigenous communities, based on hard evidence.