On November 13, 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau publicly released the mandate letters given to all Cabinet Ministers. The letters appear to show that the Federal government is serious about renewing its relationship with First Nations, the Inuit and the Métis Nation. This bulletin highlights specific policy objectives that may be of interest to project proponents.

Overview

The mandate letters, tailored for each Minister, detail an overarching goal and a list of priorities to be completed over the course of the Federal government’s four-year term. These letters provide Canadians with greater insight into the Federal government’s priorities, but do not represent an exhaustive list of commitments. It can be anticipated that the government will proceed by adding new priorities when appropriate.

Each mandate letter explicitly states the Federal government’s goal of a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.” This policy direction builds upon the commitments set out in the 2015 Liberal election platform, and outlines a strong focus on improved coordination across ministries by requiring Ministers to collaborate with Cabinet colleagues on complex issues.

However, it is the priorities assigned to each Minister in their mandate letter that are the clearest indication of how the Federal government plans to meet its Indigenous policy goals in practice. Specific priorities that may be of interest to project proponents are highlighted below.

Highlights

Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Overarching goal: to renew the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples and to re-engage in a renewed nation-to-nation relationship based on recognition, rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.

Priorities of interest for project proponents:

  • To work with provinces and territories, and with First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit, to implement recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, starting with the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Undertake, with advice from the Minister of Justice, in full partnership and consultation with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation, a review of laws, policies, and operational practices to ensure that the Crown is fully executing its consultation and accommodation obligations, in accordance with its constitutional and international human rights obligations, including Aboriginal and Treaty rights.
  • Work, on a nation-to-nation basis, with the Métis Nation to advance reconciliation and renew the relationship, based on cooperation, respect for rights, our international obligations, and a commitment to end the status quo.
  • Collaborate with the Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change and Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to ensure that environmental assessment legislation is amended to enhance the consultation, engagement and participatory capacity of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects.
  • To promote economic development and create jobs for Indigenous Peoples.

Minister of Natural Resources

Overarching goal: to ensure that the resource sector remains a source of jobs, prosperity, and opportunity within the context of a world that increasingly values sustainable practices and low carbon processes.

Priorities of interest for project proponents:

  • Work with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to immediately review Canada’s environmental assessment processes to regain public trust and introduce new, fair processes that will:
    • restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while also working with provinces and territories to avoid duplication;
    • ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public’s interest;
    • provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate, including provisions to enhance the engagement of Indigenous groups in reviewing and monitoring major resource development projects; and,
    • require project proponents to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts.
  • Modernize the National Energy Board to ensure that its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields such as environmental science, community development, and Indigenous traditional knowledge.
  • Work closely with provinces and territories to: develop a Canadian Energy Strategy to protect Canada’s energy security; encourage energy conservation; and bring cleaner, renewable energy onto a smarter electricity grid.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Overarching goal: to take the lead in implementing the government’s plan for a clean environment and a sustainable economy.

Priorities of interest for project proponents:

  • To ensure that the government provides national leadership to reduce emissions, combat climate change and price carbon.
  • To work with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to increase the proportion of Canada’s marine and coastal areas that are protected.

Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Overarching goal: to protect our three oceans, coasts, waterways and fisheries and ensure that they remain healthy for future generations.

Priorities of interest for project proponents:

  • Work with the provinces, territories, Indigenous Peoples, and other stakeholders to better co-manage our three oceans.
  • Work with the Minister of Transport to review the previous government’s changes to the Fisheries Act and Navigable Waters Protection Act, restore lost protections, and incorporate modern safeguards.
  • Work with the Ministers of Transport, Natural Resources and Environment and Climate Change to formalize the moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s North Coast, including the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Overarching goal: to ensure our legislation meets the highest standards of equity, fairness and respect for the rule of law.

Priorities of interest for project proponents:

  • Review Canada’s litigation strategy to include early decisions to end appeals or positions that are not consistent with commitments and values of this government or the Charter.

Conclusion

The Federal government has made clear its intent to improve relations with Aboriginal peoples in Canada through its policy direction. However, the policy objectives set out in the ministerial mandate letters raise some important questions.

  • How and when will the federal environmental assessment process be revised?
  • What is intended by the proposal to increase participation of Indigenous peoples in "reviewing and monitoring of major resource development projects"?
  • How will the Federal government implement the UN Declaration's commitment to "free, prior and informed consent" taking into account the fact that Canadian constitutional law does not provide Aboriginal groups with a veto over development?

While the answers to these and other questions remain to be worked out over the next four years, the mandate letters clarify what Prime Minister Trudeau’s Cabinet will be expected to deliver.

View the full versions of each ministerial mandate letter.