Harold Calla: Creating a seat at the table
The following is a transcript of an acceptance speech given by Harold Calla at the Public Policy Forum’s Testimonial Dinner Awards and Honour Roll on April 27, 2023 in Toronto.
Thank you. The first thing I’m going to say is Toronto will win the Stanley Cup. Because if they risk losing it, we’re going to go and kidnap the other team’s goalies. Because I am sick and tired about hearing TSN reporters cry about the Toronto Maple Leafs not winning the Stanley Cup.
My story is an interesting one because I didn’t start out thinking I was going to be doing what I’m doing. I just wanted to solve a financial problem as long as I agreed to work there for six months in 1987 and have been there, and been involved in these issues, ever since. Because when you see something that is just plain wrong, you want to find a change to it. And I think the thing that I found when I came home into my community is I was taken by our traditional membership and brought under their wing and taught and it empowered me. I came to Ottawa shortly thereafter to my first AFN meeting and I went back to one just recently. And it’s the same agenda; not much has changed, that we haven’t initiated as Indigenous People. And there are a number of people in this room who have shared this journey: Manny Jules, who is here with me, an inspirational leader from the Kamloops Indian Band; and the Hon. Gerry St. Germain, who always answered our call when we came to Ottawa looking for legislative change and addressing issues. We would not be here today without those two individuals. We would not be here today without the late Jim Prentice taking an active interest in what we were doing and pursuing it in a non-partisan way with everybody.
I have to recognize my sons Jason and Dylan, who came back to the Indigenous community fresh from their master’s degrees and agreed to commit to be part of a change. I’m going to mention some names here that you’re going to see coming up in the future, because the one thing I’d like you to leave here today understanding is there is capacity in First Nation communities to deal with the issues before us. To politicians in the crowd, that money that you’re investing in education is working on every front – so, people like Scott, Jordan, Melanie, Charlene and Theresa, some of whom you’ve met here today. There’s another generation of leadership coming up behind us that is going to continue to pursue all of the things that we’re wanting to be recognized.
In 1967, we thought we got self-government but we got self-administration. In 1982, we got the Constitution. Everybody thought that was the end of the challenges that we would face. But we spent 40 years in the courts fighting over what it meant and how much opportunity have we lost in this country because of it? I’m from British Columbia: from 2008 to 2012 we lost a golden opportunity to pursue natural gas exports. We couldn’t solve the issues, one of which is the regulatory framework under which we approve projects. It’s got to change or Canada will not become a place where people want to invest and take risk.
So, what does all this mean for Indigenous People? Well, the Supreme Court of Canada has historically brought down decisions that continue to affirm the existence of Aboriginal rights and title. And in my opinion, they continue to expand the scope and reach. The reality that we face in this country today, that if we’re going to move into the precious metals field, we’re not going to do so without the inclusion and participation of First Nation communities in decision-making and in economic benefits. That’s the reality that we face and we can all have a perspective on it. But I want to share the perspective that was given to us in Prince Rupert many years ago by the ambassador from Japan to Canada when we were struggling with natural gas in British Columbia. And, he said, ‘Isn’t this just a business deal? Can’t we just get one done?’
We have to get to that point. Environmental assessments are key. We need to be part of that process. My own community, Squamish, had an LNG facility in Howe Sound and we got so frustrated with the provincial and federal processes we shut them both down and did our own, and we issued our own permit. It has no legal standing with all kinds of social licence. So, we need to be part of the decision-making process. And I think if we leave here today, we need to understand we have a joint destiny and that destiny requires that we work together, that we overcome some of the historical impacts of colonialism. It’s interesting to me that the Catholic Church renounced the doctrine of discovery. Maybe we need to look at ourselves and renounce that same doctrine of discovery. We did exist in this country; we do exist in this country. And as my cousin, Chief David Jenkins, likes to say, ‘We’re not part of the problem, but we are a big part of the solution.’ And that’s the choice that we have to make.
Access to capital is absolutely critical, and I thank Lisa for the work that she’s doing in that area. But what many of us don’t understand in this country is we were not allowed to evolve as governments. We don’t have a balance sheet. We don’t even own our own land. We don’t have fiscal powers. We’re administrators of programs and services that are delivered by somebody else. And I want to ask you, how many more $23-billion settlements do you want to see? Things have to change. I’m starting to give the fear-of-God speech like some of my predecessors did. But that’s the reality. We can’t turn a blind eye. Government policies have to change. Central agencies have to change. Justice, Finance and Treasury Board have to change in their views about how we’re going to co-exist as Indigenous People
And I say with great respect, you don’t have to travel overseas to see the tragedies of Indigenous living experiences. You just need to go northern Canada. I was in Attawapiskat in early February, and as I said to some today, I walked out of that community ashamed to be a Canadian, that we would leave a community in that state. Things must change. It takes money to change; it takes our engagement in the economy to change. I come from a community that has been blessed to be in a location that has allowed it to develop a land base. And I’ve seen the benefit of having resources, what that can do for a community, how it can regain self-esteem, to be able to move out of poverty, to have a future, to look towards a future. And there’s going to be some challenges as we go through this transition. And the one thing that can’t happen is you can’t expect us to achieve what you can’t yourselves, and that it is there’s going to be some challenges and perhaps some failures, something I call a noble failure. And I think that sometimes one of the challenges that is put upon the Indigenous community is the intolerance towards any kind of a challenge that it may face in implementing what we believe are our constitutional rights.
So, the good thing, as Minister Bennett said to me once when I ran into her in the Toronto airport, she said, ‘Harold, where would we be if we didn’t have you? We’d have to create you.’ Well, we heard. We’ve been here for 15 years, 349 communities have scheduled to the Act. We issue financial performance certificates, financial management systems, laws. The Finance Authority has been able to secure – based upon the oversight framework that we created in the FMA that has been vetted by rating agencies and banks – has been able to borrow $2 billion. And in that framework, a community anywhere in Canada, regardless of where it is, can borrow money if they’re certified at the same rate of the Province of Ontario because of the oversight framework.
You know, when I came home, they said, ‘Harold, it’s not all about the money; you’ve been away too long.’ And I said, ‘Are you serious? We cut 70,000 cheques a year here.’ We’re all about the money. It’s what we do with the money that makes us different. It’s what we do and contributing our role into how this company will develop, country will develop. How are our natural resources going to be? What remediation is going to occur? So, I think the good thing is that we’re alive to the challenges. We have something called the First Nations Major Projects Coalition that just had a conference in Vancouver where 1,500 people attended from all around the world, around natural resources, economic development. ESG is here to stay. The International Sustainability Standards Board, the Canadian Sustainability Standards Board are all matters that are going to affect how this country is able to function, how it’s able to attract investors, how it’s able to attract capital and the cost of that capital. Geordie Hungerford, our CEO, is an adviser to the chair of the International Sustainability Standards Board. Scott Munro is the vice-chair of the Public Sector Accounting Board. Reporting is going to be a matter of fact in the next little while. I was at the Ontario Securities Commission meeting this afternoon talking about all of those things, and they’re starting to have to face that reality.
So, our world is going to change from what it is today. The Indigenous community does not need to be seen as an obstacle achieving our goals in something and I think Indigenous People have their own answers. We’ve proven it in the Land Management Act, we’ve proven it in the FMA institutions, we’ve proven it in British Columbia with the First Nations Health Authority. We can deliver services better and cheaper than existing delivery mechanisms. We have legislation, Mr. Speaker, coming to the House next week, we hope, that will create an infrastructure institution, that will allow for a completely different approach than a 12-month cash-flow cycle planning of infrastructure. We’ll be able to partner. We’ll be able to look at public private partnerships. We’ll be able to bundle revenue streams and we’ll be able to achieve infrastructure much sooner than waiting with the traditional procurement method, which will take somewhere between 70 and 90 years. The reality that we all must face as Indigenous People and in this country as there will never be enough transfer money to fix this problem. It’s got to be supporting economic development and it’s got to be supporting our governments in the same way that other orders of government in this country can function. We need powers; we need fiscal powers; and we need to be in a position where we can leverage those fiscal powers to raise the money as we see appropriate to meet the needs of our community.
The Public Policy Forum has been instrumental in my tenure looking at these things because I have been associated with them for probably 15 years. And we need that forum to come and have these kinds of conversations. Canada needs this forum. As a voter I cast my vote, and then I wait for it to be cast again. And I wonder how much influence and where I can gain that influence and where this country is going. And so where the Public Policy Forum plays an integral role to all of us as Canadians, it may bridge that gap of how do we inform government of what we want to do. The one thing I do know, having worked with politicians since 1987, is they don’t want problems either. They want to get re-elected. And we’re happy to do that. But they need to be in a position where they have to recognize there has to be a fundamental change. This is not about extinguishment of rights. This is about recognition of rights that are contained within the Supreme Court of Canada decisions and the Constitution. It is high time in this country the government takes leadership instead of deferring to the courts. Thank you very much.