Over the past few weeks, the Metis Settlements General Council of Alberta has been vocal in the mainstream media, decrying the UCP government for not having consulted them about a new agreement concerning funding for settlements (Bill C-57).
Most notably, the situation became heated as MSGC president Herb Lehr accused the UCP of systemic racism, threatening legal litigation against the provincial government.
Furthermore, there has been cause for concern in the role of Blake Desjarlais, a Director for the group who is also running for federal office as an MP in Edmonton-Griesbach; many have seen this as a conflict of interest. We reached out to Stan Delorme, chair of the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement, for comment.
TBT: Mr. Delorme, where do you agree/disagree with respect to Minister Wilson’s amendments?
I’m in opposition to those amendments which were unilaterally done that will cede authority to councils with respect to financial concerns (water delivery, building roads, water delivery, sewage disposal). Time for consultation on this decision wasn’t allowed because of COVID restrictions. In the past, it was our membership that was the main by-law making engine, whereby constituents would respond ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ with respect to a by-law that everyone had an interest in. Taking that away from them to put it in the exclusive hands of the council is something I strongly oppose. What I do agree with is downsizing the executive at the MSGC-level. Elements of this bureaucracy could stand to be slashed away.
TBT: What’s your stance on the controversial comments put forward by Mr. Lehr?
-He’s developing his own agenda that I don’t agree with. He’s done interviews with several newspapers and produced articles that aren’t in line with our thoughts at Buffalo Lake. The language he uses is bothersome and is not conducive to any relationship building with the provincial government. I think it’s speaking out of term to threaten litigation and to bring up accusations of systemic racism.
It’s a bit of a knee jerk reaction to run behind the NDP banner; it’s a mistake. I brought it up to Herb’s attention that it wasn’t the right move to make, and that his language, threatening to use litigation, didn’t do us any favours. Likewise about his allegation of ‘systemic racism’. I thought that was premature. Don’t get me wrong however, I am always in favour of indigenous communities standing on their own two feet.
Furthermore, these litigation matters can drag on with nothing to show for. It’s always better to negotiate then litigate. Basically, before we make any decision abruptly, I think it’s always wise to run through it with a fine tooth comb.
TBT: Has Blake Desjarlais' actions and involvement caused any controversy?
-[Blake’s] currently still on payroll from what I understand. I brought this up at budget talks this week with the MSGC. There’s many employees paid through that fund - I requested that we have a second look. I also brought up the idea of a legal opinion, as I think him to be in conflict of interest; he can’t be an employee if he’s seeking nomination for federal NDP, nor did he have the courtesy of phoning the board to indicate his intentions before he sought the nomination for Edmonton-Griesbach.
TBT: Why can you not be partisan if a member of the MSGC?
-As a lobbyist for the MSGC, you’re meant to work with all parties and be non-partisan. Blake’s running for federal politics and that’s political in nature. In the event he doesn’t succeed, according to Herb, he’ll come back as if nothing happened. I personally think he should resign and walk away if he’s involving himself in federal politics. I also have a problem with the fact that despite being hired a few years back, he has not been in proper contact with representatives like myself. The MSGC is meant to be accountable to all settlements and as a lobbyist thereof, I don’t think he has with regard to Buffalo Lake.
TBT: Have theses matters caused division within the Settlements?
Oh, absolutely. Not just within the MSGC, but it harms provincial-indigenous relations. Conservative MPs had previously engaged with Blake just for him to go partisan against them; it causes tension in the background. My colleagues agree with me as well, which is why this was such a large point in this week’s meeting.