Doug Donaldson, NDP MLA for Stikine, is heading back to the B.C. legislature with a new role, one he said that suits him well.
Following the swearing in ceremony, June 12, NDP leader of the opposition, Adrian Dix, appointed Donaldson to the position of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation critic.
“I’m really happy in the role he’s [Dix] chosen for me,” Donaldson said.
This is Donaldson’s second term as a member of the legislative assembly and he’s counting on his previous experience to help him be more effective as an opposition critic.
In his first term, Donaldson spent some time as mining critic.
“The first time was brand new, I was a rookie,” he said.
“Now I know a little more about what’s ahead of me especially in the opposition role and I’m really happy to be going back to Victoria and raise issues concerning our area.”
The budget will be the first topic addressed when MLAs return to the legislature and Donaldson said he will keep an eye on the amount of funding and resources the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation receives.
The ministry, Donaldson said, is facing many issues it must resolve and it needs sufficient funding to properly address those issues.
“The Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation has a multitude of areas they are responsible for and they’re dependent on other ministries to do negotiating on their behalf, whether it be child and family services, education, health, or energy and mines, or forest, lands and natural resource operations,” Donaldson explained.
“In the big picture this is a role [Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation critic] that is going to have a huge impact on how we are able to proceed up here in the rural areas, in the north and in the rest of the province.”
One of the many issues facing First Nations as well as the respective government ministries is the multitude of proposed development projects on the land across the province.
How those projects move ahead is going to depend on how the B.C. Liberal government can work out relationships with First Nations on their traditional territories, Donaldson explained.
“In the big picture this is a role [Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation critic] that is going to have a huge impact on how we are able to proceed up here in the rural areas, in the north and in the rest of the province,” Donaldson said.
The fact that there are few treaties between the province and the many First Nations in B.C. is not helping matters as it is intimately tied to land-use issues.
Part of the solution, Donaldson said, would be for the Liberal government to deal with individual First Nations.
“There’s been a lack of government to government negotiation on development across their traditional territories,” Donaldson said.
“The B.C. Liberals in the past have left it up to the companies to do the negotiating, the consultation and accommodation, but court cases have said it has to be a government to government relationship.
In addition, Donaldson pointed to the widening gap between the haves and have nots, with aboriginals falling in the have not category.
“If you look at poverty and our province has the largest gap between the top 20 per cent and bottom 20 per cent, I would say that many First Nations are in the bottom 20 per cent,” Donaldson said.
“The United Nations has condemned Canada for failure to act on First Nations issues and the extreme social and economic issues that are faced by First Nations and B.C. is no different.”
Education is also of concern for Donaldson especially the lower completion rate among aboriginal students.
“We have a child welfare system where 50 per cent of the children in care are aboriginal and we have very poor completion rates in the K – 12 system for aboriginal students, which isn’t because there aren’t people with the skills and talent out there to be good parents or to succeed at K – 12 education, structurally there are reasons for why this is happening, Donaldson said.
“We need to address those because education is a key component in lessening dependency, so I’ll be advocating for better approaches to First Nations’ in K – 12 as well as in post-secondary education.”
“Those are the kinds of things I will go through in the budget estimates with the new minister,” Donaldson said.