It’s not every day that a lobbying campaign can claim success based on support from 49 MPs from all four political parties in the House of Commons as well as mining, environmental, and indigenous groups.
While these camps may in other circumstances clash, they spoke with one voice in recent months to push the federal government to fund a national network of indigenous groups that protect sensitive species and areas, maintain cultural sites, and promote sharing of traditional knowledge about land and waterways.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau took their advice and in this year’s budget included $25-million over five years, starting this fiscal year, to support a pilot Indigenous Guardians Program to promote environmental stewardship of indigenous lands.
It was a far cry from the $500-million over five years some of the groups pushing for the funding had asked for, but they were nevertheless pleased.
Lobbyists who advocated for the funding say the campaign’s success stems from the wide support it was able garner, the fact that guardians programs have been proven to provide value for money, and the concept of the network aligns with the Liberal government’s commitment to boost ties with indigenous peoples, create jobs, and promote conservation.
More than 30 guardians programs are already running in Canada, including by the Dene community of Lutsel K’e in the Northwest Territories, Innu of Labrador, and Haida Gwaii in British Columbia. The Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning in the Northwest Territories has also run a training program for students interested in learning the land management techniques they can use to start their own guardian groups.
The lobbying campaign’s goal was to expand the individual programs to a national network present in more than 200 communities, in the same vein as an Australian program in which the country’s federal government has committed more than $580-million since 2007 to support 109 indigenous-ranger groups managing more than 1.7 million square kilometres of land and water.
Assembly of First Nations chiefs passed a resolution in 2015 supporting the concept of indigenous guardian programs and helping to push for a nationally-funded network.
One of the key campaigners was the Indigenous Leadership Initiative (ILI), which is made up of a group of indigenous leaders that partnered with the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, and received support from Ducks Unlimited and several philanthropic foundations.
The International Boreal Conservation Campaign employed consultant-lobbyists including Mary Granskou, who was a policy adviser in the prime minister’s office under Liberals Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, as well as ILI director Valérie Courtois, a member of the Innu community of Mashteuiatsh, Que., and professional forester, to lobby for funding for the network.
Since at least January 2016, federal lobbying records show they lobbied more than a dozen MPs and Senators including many northern and indigenous ones. This included Don Rusnak (Thunder Bay-Rainy River, Ont.), chair of the Liberal Indigenous Caucus, Liberal Michael McLeod (Northwest Territories), Conservative MP Michael Chong (Wellington-Halton Hills, Ont.), and NDP MP Romeo Saganash (Abitibi-Baie James-Nunavik-Eeyou, Que.).
They also communicated with then-Labour minister MaryAnn Mihychuk (Kildonan-St. Paul, Man.), Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa Centre, Ont.), Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr (Winnipeg South Centre, Man.), his parliamentary secretary Kim Rudd (Northumberland-Peterborough South, Ont.), Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett (Toronto-St. Paul’s, Ont.), and parliamentary secretary to the prime minister for youth issues Peter Schiefke (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Que.), among others. And they spoke to ministers’ chiefs of staff, deputy ministers, and ministerial office policy advisers.
Liberal MP Will Amos (Pontiac, Que.), whom Ms. Granskou and Ms. Courtois spoke to on April 12, 2016, liked the idea so much he recruited 48 other MPs from all four parties to write the finance minister urging the government to fund the Indigenous Guardians Network in the next budget. Signatories included 26 Liberals like him, 17 NDP MPs, three Conservatives, one Bloc MP, and the lone Green MP, Elizabeth May.
In an associated op-ed, Mr. Amos touted the program as “one of the most powerful illustrations of renewal we’ve seen” in the relationship between Canada and indigenous peoples.
The guardians encourage conversations between First Nations, industry, and government, he noted, and a November 2016 analysis of guardians programs in N.W.T. by Social Ventures Australia suggested that every dollar invested in such programs creates $2.5 of social, economic, environmental, and cultural benefits.
Other groups ranging from the Mining Association of Canada to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) voiced their support for the network.
Seventeen Canadian environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy of Canada presented the $500-million funding ask as one of their 2017 “green budget” recommendations.
So, how did the campaign garner such wide support?
Former N.W.T. premier Stephen Kakfwi, now head of Canadians for a New Partnership and a senior adviser with the ILI, said that the project received the funding it did because similar programs have already seen significant returns from investments. He wrote an op-ed last October with former Progressive Conservative prime minister Joe Clark, a founding director of Canadians for a New Partnership, promoting a federally funded national guardians network. The new partnership group is an Ottawa-based non-profit promoting a better relationship between indigenous peoples and all Canadians.
Mr. Kakfwi also mentioned the Haida nation’s Watchmen initiative, which has been running for over 30 years, located in Haida Gwaii off the coast of B.C.
Mining Association of Canada president Pierre Gratton echoed Mr. Kakfwi’s sentiments, making note of the Australian program as a proven model, above other factors.
He also pointed to “the fact that [you’ve] got industry that has had experience with it, that can also testify to it having worked, and certainly the broad-based coalition of support I think that they had.”
Ms. Granskou and another campaign advocate, Alan Young, approached him for his industry group’s support, he said.
“We provided it. We wrote letters of support and an op-ed at one point in [The Hill Times]. We mentioned it in meetings, I mentioned it to Minister Carr and his staff a few times,” he said.
For Mr. Gratton, the support was a business-minded investment that would help foster relationships with indigenous communities where his member companies operated.
Those approached to help the campaign, like Mr. Gratton, were all individuals or organizations capable of using their voice in the political sphere to help secure funding.
Éric Hébert-Daly, national executive director of CPAWS, said the environmental group decided to support the campaign following a conversation with Ms. Courtois.
“She came to us last summer, and said, you know, ‘We really want to put this into the budget…’ So we took our role at the Green Budget Coalition, and made the effort to make sure that was incorporated in the request. And [we] had mentioned it in a number of our lobbying meetings in the last couple of months, leading up to the budget. We’re very pleased with the result,” he said.
Ms. Courtois and other members of the ILI declined to comment for this story, saying they didn’t want to take credit for the initiative, as many people were involved. The Boreal Leadership Council, whose secretariat is the International Boreal Conservation Campaign, redirected requests for comment to the ILI.
Mr. Hébert-Daly cited the involvement of various groups and individuals as one of the reasons the lobbying campaign succeeded.
“I think it was a whole combination of groups asking at the same time for the same sort of thing, which is why I think it was effective as it was. It also aligned really well with the government’s agenda on [indigenous] reconciliation. It kind of played a nice role both on conservation and their approach to indigenous governments across the country,” he said.
The network idea “fit perfectly with the public interest priorities that the government had identified,” said Mr. Amos.
“This is a wonderful example of innovative program development to achieve a number of Canada’s pressing priorities around job creation, conservation, indigenous reconciliation, and youth opportunity.”