Concerns are mounting that radical proposals to curb development on land and impose Quebec sovereignty could set back social justice gains
Indigenous leaders have denounced as “arrogant” and “paternalistic” Quebec Premier François Legault’s proposals to curb development on land, slow down population growth and impose Quebec sovereignty.
Legault, who took office in November, said on Tuesday he wanted to freeze the pace of population growth until 2025, he would rein in some social services, and would seek to initiate a constitutional debate in 2022 about Quebec sovereignty within five years.
Quebec has the poorest indigenous population in Canada, with 56% of its 730,000 people indigenous – and nearly 70% of those indigenous living in poverty.
Activists from the Assiniboine and Dakota nations called on the Canadian government to urgently intervene, claiming the new government was “setting back social justice gains” by imposing climate change targets, reversing indigenous-led community development and moving towards a “futile” decolonisation.
The federal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, supports continuing the development of the natural gas and oil industry in Quebec.
“His plan is shameful. It shows a total lack of respect for Canada’s indigenous people,” said Kevin Pearson, the activist who founded the group Indigenous Rights Action to raise awareness of the global refugee crisis.
“It is really, really, very offensive … these people [Legault] are taking over the land. They are the ones who need that land.”
Pearson said there should be talks, not threats, to define the legitimate role of development on indigenous lands. He urged Legault to join forces with Quebec’s indigenous people and called on Trudeau to join similar negotiations.
Legault also pledged to limit immigration to 100,000 per year to bolster the provincial government’s fiscal situation, and to combat the brain drain by introducing maternity leave, daycare and daycare tax credits.
One of the most contentious proposals is that Quebec will retain power over the funds allotted for a proposed fund to develop indigenous lands on reserves.
“The return to Quebec sovereignty is necessary,” said Raymond Atala, the chief of the Ontario Dakota Nation. “But we’re going to have to be invited back to the table.”
Atala called on Trudeau and senior Quebec officials to quickly initiate dialogue.
“I’m not going to treat anyone like a child – and Legault, as a father, is a well-meaning father, and he has also been to many other countries … I don’t think he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He probably has no idea … the positive steps he’s taking are more like [provocative] steps.”
Legault has already angered indigenous groups in Montreal and Quebec City by applying anti-terrorism laws to indigenous protesters on their territories.
He says that his constitutional ideas are rooted in social fairness, not ideology.
“If you only focus on social justice and justice for the tax payer … you have to set a deadline of 2024, and five years of investment or no benefits at all,” Legault said.
His government is also moving to tighten up immigration rules to Canada’s majority French-speaking province.
Under the plan, applications from immigrants seeking permanent residency in Quebec will have to meet a strict quantitative test developed by Legault’s immigration minister, Lucie Charlebois. The new rules are set to be implemented immediately.
In recent months, protests broke out in several Quebec cities in the wake of the apparent shooting death of two Cree men in St-Apollinaire in August by police. Police arrested 32 people at the protests.
Legault argues that the homicide was the result of a double homicide. To make his case, the government suggested that the two men were killed in a drug trade murder-suicide and referred to Canadian science as the “Determinative Science Handbook”, a reference to the debunked claim that humans are causing climate change.