Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron says the provincial government should have consulted First Nations before it announced a $4-billion irrigation project.
“That was news to us,” Cameron said.
Work is set to begin immediately on the massive infrastructure project, the largest in provincial history. It’s expected to take 10 years to complete all phases.
Officials say they plan to consult First Nations. But Cameron noted the Supreme Court has repeatedly ordered governments to conduct meaningful consultations with First Nations before projects begin, not after.
The federal government policy is that those consultations must attempt to obtain “free, prior and informed consent” before any major project affecting First Nations begins.
“That’s the whole purpose of communication, right? You get input prior to any plan coming forward,” Cameron said.
Cameron said they’re still willing to talk, but their support is not automatic. First Nations will meet as a council, get advice from elders and experts, and then give their input. This will be especially important for First Nations in affected regions such as Cumberland House, Battlefords and Qu’Appelle.
“It’s not going to be consultation unless the take our recommendations seriously. They can’t just come into a meeting and make the report and all is fine and dandy. It doesn’t work that way,” Cameron said.
More water will be diverted from the Lake Diefenbaker reservoir to irrigate another 200,000 hectares of land.
Officials say it would allow farmers to grow vegetables and other high value crops and spark the growth of a processing industry.
They also say it would also provide a more stable water source for Regina, Moose Jaw and other communities.
Farm groups welcomed the announcement. But others such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said the price tag is too high for taxpayers at a time when government debt is already soaring.