For decades, a lack of clarity over Indigenous rights has seen nations, communities and proponents pushed into conflict in courts. The courts, in turn, have implored governments to get on with updating legislation and polices that respect charter-protected rights and provide clarity and certainty.
Yesterday, the B.C. government introduced the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act. It marks an important moment in this province’s work toward meaningful reconciliation and signals an opportunity for collaboration and partnerships that we believe could benefit all British Columbians. It also reflects our own experience. When trust is formed and common facts developed, we have more that connects us than divides us and as a result when we work together we are always better off.
The absence of clear and respectful processes for economic development has meant that Indigenous peoples and communities have faced denial of their rights, and unacceptable socio-economic gaps compared to other Canadians. As business and labour leaders, we know legal certainty and clear processes are essential to both investment confidence and the creation of stable, dignified jobs. When basic certainties and clarity are missing, it undermines the ability of employers and workers, here and around the world, to invest in, start or grow businesses and ensure good, high-wage jobs that sustain families and communities.
Despite these missing essentials, there has been progress. Through the resilience, creativity and hard work of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders, relationships have been fostered and valuable partnerships advanced. In fact, B.C. leads the country with almost 500 agreements between Indigenous Nations and companies, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, important revenue streams, and the creation of hundreds of thousands of quality jobs for Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers alike.
It’s been a complex exercise and, at times, frustrating and confusing for all parties, with opportunities lost and, in some instances, conflict. The pattern has been parties turning to the courts hoping for that missing clarity from a judicial body that looks at the law but lacks the ability to implement practical change and fix the problem.
That’s why the B.C. Federation of Labour and the Business Council of B.C. are optimistic for the long-term potential of the province’s recently introduced legislation. At its core, the legislation is about affirming human rights. But it also provides a transparent and practical process for how government’s action on implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will unfold. In it, we see the potential for more certainty and predictability for Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, businesses, investors and citizens, as we pursue opportunity and shared prosperity in partnership.
The implementation of the legislation will take time and requires work from all of us. In the spirit of collaboration, it should include engagement by governments, both First Nation and provincial, with labour, communities, and business. Communicating what the legislation is, and what it is not, is vital for British Columbians and those looking to invest and partner in B.C. Successful implementation will also require government support for nation-building and governance capacity to ensure the full participation of Indigenous communities in shared decision-making processes.
Taken together, this bill gives us hope, and not only for a more certain path towards necessary reconciliation. It gives us hope that B.C. can differentiate itself globally, setting the course for Canada to create an economic climate that supports sustainable development and advances the self-determination of Indigenous peoples. If successful, we foresee a more certain, respectful and prosperous society for all who live, work and invest in our province.
Greg D’Avignon is president and CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia. Laird Cronk is president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
As published by the Vancouver Sun.