While the rest of the province is celebrating the new powers that Bill 57 will grant the Quebec government over forestry, what it could take away from First Nations groups is being swept under the carpet.
Nathalie Normandeau, Quebec’s deputy premier and recently-appointed minister in charge of natural resources, has told various media outlets that the bill she inherited from former minister Claude Bechard will be “revolutionary.”
Bill 57 will seek to take away control over forestry in Quebec from the industry that cuts it down. But with the bill comes a few hidden details.
Under Bill 57, anyone, including Aboriginals, will have to obtain permits to conduct a variety of activities, such as chopping wood for personal use or even berry picking on land that the government considers public.
“The analysis that we have done really confirms that there is very little consideration given to our communities because for one thing, the consultation aspects of the bill certainly don’t go far enough. On the other hand, a lot of the authority would be provided by regional entities that are yet to be formed in some cases or are already in existence in other cases,” said Ghislain Picard, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.
Normandeau has told the public that this will be better for Quebec as it could potentially limit certain practices by the forestry companies and that the government is fighting the “resisting” forestry industry, according to the Montreal Gazette.
Normandeau also told the Gazette that “the environmental lobby wants the companies to be certified to have access to the market.” While that might be true, these permits will also seek to limit the activities of First Nations groups who have lived on this land for centuries.
“I guess you could easily say that it is ‘revolutionary’ if you close your eyes to the issues for First Nations communities, but from our standpoint it is difficult to say that. In a way, I guess it is ‘revolutionary’ in the sense that a lot of the authority will be provided to the regions and that is where the difficulties lay for First Nations communities. Presently you can talk to someone in Montreal and deal with a lot of issues, but if you are being defer to other regions, it is a completely a different ballgame,” said Picard.
Picard’s major concern is that he has lost total faith with the Quebec and Canadian governments and by dispersing these responsibilities there is no guarantee that any First Nations group would protected, despite the fact that it is a federal responsibility.
Picard said that First Nations groups were never consulted when it came to transferring over the land rights to the individual provinces. Moreover, he is even more fearful of what might happen with this kind of power in provincial hands as Quebec is “from being the ideal province” when it comes to First Nations issues.
Bill 57 is currently undergoing hearings before a parliamentary commission and, according to Picard, already some First Nations groups, such as the Huron, have submitted paragraphs to the commission, voicing their concerns.
At the same time, Picard wonders what good this will even do.
“We don’t trust the government and this bill certainly proves our point. The last time we were before a commission having to do with forestry was last October and at that time we said that this is the last time for us. It is becoming ridiculous for us to come to these forums, where we repeat the same message and have nobody on the other side listen. Quebec keeps doing the same thing over and over again,” said Picard.