This article originally appeared in the National Post.
By Chris Sankey, November 28, 2023
Speculation has swirled for months that Ottawa is planning to introduce a new Indigenous loan guarantee program, and last week’s fiscal update confirmed that more details will be included in the next federal budget. I am not totally against this idea, as it could help Indigenous groups overcome historical barriers to raising capital, particularly through borrowing. However, there has also been speculation that certain industries could be excluded from loan eligibility, in accordance with the government’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment framework. This is not OK.
If the government follows through with its plan to roll out a new Indigenous-tailored financial program, it should respect our right to self-determination, which encompasses our autonomy to make investment decisions based on our own, internally defined objectives.
For instance, we are well within our rights to pursue investment opportunities in the energy sector, which offers a path to prosperity for many Indigenous communities. Indigenous-Canadians who work in oil and gas extraction currently make almost three times more than their peers. Quite frankly, it would be irresponsible for us to not seek out new energy investments, given the potential for good-paying energy jobs to lift scores of Indigenous families out of poverty.
A new loan guarantee program would, in theory, provide Indigenous nations with the resources to build our own path forward. But if the loan program were handled by the Canada Infrastructure Bank, as budget 2023 suggested, loans for oil and gas development may be excluded. Applying ESG requirements to the program would have a similar effect.
Such conditions would put remote communities at a disadvantage relative to those located near large urban centres. And communities that are dependent on energy projects for their economic well-being would be left in the lurch.This would be a step away from reconciliation. The federal government should not be able to pick and choose for us which projects we partner on — this is paternalism of the worst sort. Decisions about our lands and the projects built on them should be ours to make — and ours alone.We have long made decisions about projects in our territories — decisions that balance economic development with stewardship of land and water. The Trudeau government has pledged, repeatedly, to value mutual respect and restorative justice. We need to remind them of that.
Right now, the most important thing the federal government can do is respect the right of all Indigenous communities to self-determination. We have a limited window of opportunity to persuade the Liberal government to include oil and natural gas extraction projects on the list of eligible loan guarantees, and make sure that our inherent right to make decisions about projects on our lands is respected.
This is also an opportunity to forge a much-needed and long-overdue relationship between the Tsimshian, Nisga’a, Haida, Haisla, Heiltsuk, Wet’suwet’en, Gitxsan, Tahltan, Tse’Khene, T’exelcemc and Carrier Sekani people, and build an Indigenous economic corridor stretching from British Columbia to Newfoundland. This loan guarantee program could help lift thousands of Indigenous-Canadians out of poverty, and bring prosperity to our people for generations to come, through inter-generational knowledge and wealth transfer. When our communities prosper, Canada prospers, but we cannot do that without the rest of the country’s help.
This is an opportunity for the federal government to bridge the divide and make Canada the economic powerhouse it ought to be. This loan guarantee program can serve as a much-needed catalyst. We should have the opportunity to invest in any project that has the potential to bring prosperity to our communities, including projects in the oil and gas industry.
Indigenous communities want to be a part of Canada, not apart from Canada. Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job.
Chris Sankey is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a businessman and former elected councillor for the Lax Kw Alaams First Nation.