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Métis National Council president airs frustrations after Liberal ministers meeting

February 2, 2024

‘We can’t be relying on the same promises from back in 2017 around reconciliation,’ says Cassidy Caron

Politicians sit gathered around a table for a summit.
President of the Metis National Council Cassidy Caron looks on as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Gary Anandasangaree delivers opening remarks at a meeting Wednesday in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

CBC Indigenous: The president of the Métis National Council says the council is “frustrated” with the lack of progress on some priorities, following a meeting with Liberal cabinet ministers earlier this week.

Despite emerging generally happy from a summit between Métis leaders and federal cabinet ministers on Wednesday, Cassidy Caron expressed some exasperation. “It’s almost as if this government needs to take a step back and reassess what its reconciliation priorities are,” said Caron in an interview Thursday at her downtown Ottawa office.

“We have evolved, changed and done a lot of work since 2015, but we can’t be relying on the same promises from back in 2017 around reconciliation.”

The Métis National Council was formed in 1983 to advocate for Métis constitutional rights. It today consists of provincial leaders from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, after the Manitoba Métis Federation withdrew in 2021.

The meeting was part of the federal “permanent bilateral mechanisms” with First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders launched in 2017 — summit-style gatherings where politicians meet for candid talks.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced these mechanisms in December 2016, part of his promise of renewed nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous Peoples. 

On that front, Caron is concerned about progress stalling after the federal cabinet shuffle last summer, echoing concerns raised by Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami national advocacy organization. And like Obed, Caron sees now as the time for the Trudeau government to begin fulfilling that nearly nine-year-old promise of transformative reconciliation.

‘We have been really frustrated’

When the bilateral process launched, she said, there were “quick wins” and steps taken toward new accords that would include sustainable 10-year funding deals. But since 2019, the government hasn’t agreed to actually sign these accords, she said.

“They largely point to Canada’s poor fiscal state, and with no money in the budgets, then we can’t make progress on our priorities, and so we have been really frustrated,” she said.

On Thursday, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree called it unfair to suggest the Liberals failed to deliver. “By all independent accounts, we have moved the needle,” he told CBC Indigenous.  “The issue that I hear is the pace of progress, which I relate to and I recognize, but make no mistake, this government has moved significant issues forward on reconciliation.”

Politicians laugh and talk around a table covered with papers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits across from Métis National Council then-president Clément Chartier at an early Crown-Métis summit in an undated photograph. (Government of Canada)

He said the summit included key ministers like Treasury Board President Anita Anand, whose department manages federal spending, and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, who pitched a vision for economic reconciliation to the Métis delegation.

But the government must also fund these commitments, not just make them, Caron said. To that end, her top asks from the 2024 budget will be cash for economic development and health care.

If it isn’t there, she said, then “it is just simply lip service at these meetings and we’ll just continue to meet to discuss the lack of progress, and that does significant harm to our relationship.”

Anandasangaree rejected the notion the Liberal reconciliation agenda is off the rails or sidelined by the government’s greater focus on housing, affordability and immigration.

The rookie minister remains “very optimistic” about the future and suggests leaders should seek ways to build their relationship with Canada rather than “pick on the irritants that exist.” “The agenda is absolutely moving forward in a very robust way,” he said.

Self-government bill debate resumes

He pointed, for instance, to Métis self-government legislation, Bill C-53, winding through the House of Commons. Lawmakers continued to parse through the bill as the House resumed sitting this week.

The Chiefs of Ontario likewise resumed their pressure campaign against it. They oppose it, along with the Manitoba Métis Federation, for the governmental status it would confer on the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO).

The groups dispute the assertion that historic Métis communities existed throughout Ontario, particularly toward its eastern border with Quebec, and accuse the MNO of rights grabbing and identity theft, which the MNO rejects as denialism and misinformation.

Caron said the national council currently doesn’t have a position on whether the Métis homeland encompasses the areas of Ontario claimed by the MNO, as the council awaits the findings and recommendations of a panel studying the issue.

Anandasangaree, meanwhile, wouldn’t say whether the chiefs have swayed him to subject the MNO to closer scrutiny. “The commitment I have is to listen to all those who have concerns, and I have done that continuously,” he said.


Brett Forester, Reporter

Brett Forester is a reporter with CBC Indigenous in Ottawa. He is a member of the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point First Nation in southern Ontario who previously worked as a journalist with the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.