New Brunswick’s prime minister has publicly attacked an “unprecedented” property title claim by six First Nations communities after it was amended this week to target some of the province’s largest corporations.
Prime Minister Blaine Higgs’ comments are being described by one of the bosses involved in the legal action as “fear mongers” who are meant to make New Brunswick residents oppose the claim.
“I cannot stay as prime minister and let things unfold, knowing that most New Brunswickers don’t know,” Higgs said at a news conference Wednesday.
“This affects jobs, land ownership, private investment and the entire economy of our province.”
Almost a year ago, the Wolastoqey First Nation filed its land title claim against the federal and provincial governments, asking the courts to uphold Aboriginal title to more than five million hectares of land, about 60 percent. cent of New Brunswick, originally occupied by Wolastoqey.
On Tuesday, they amended that claim to include six companies: JD Irving, NB Power, Acadian Timber, Twin Rivers Paper, HJ Crabbe and Sons and AV Group, mostly pulp and forestry companies, as defendants along with the two tiers of government. .
The Wolastoqey seek the return of identified parcels of land from those corporations and compensation from the Crown for the profits made from those lands.
On Wednesday, during a press conference in which he used some variation of the phrase “60 percent of the province” almost a dozen times, Higgs argued that the indigenous claim would be dangerous to the land and homes of the private inhabitants of New Brunswick, despite Wolastoqey statements to the contrary.
Although he was reluctant to speak on a matter in court, Higgs suggested that he believes the well-being of the province is at stake.
“We have seen assurances from some of the bosses that it will not affect private lands other than the companies mentioned. The claim doesn’t clarify that, ”he said.
“The concern is the claim of 60 percent of the province and all the many private lands that this could lead to.”
Wolastoqey’s claim seeks ownership of specific parcels of land owned by the named companies, identified in an appendix titled Exhibit “B”. It also seeks ownership of some private parcels owned by the Crown.
“With respect to the lands in the Traditional Lands that are not owned by the Crown Defendants and that are not set forth in Exhibit ‘B’, the Plaintiffs are not seeking the return of these lands in this litigation,” the statement reads claim.
Higgs said he was concerned that there might be add-ons in the future.
“Today, it is in several companies, but tomorrow it could be in several more companies. There are no limits here other than 60 percent of the province. We have to be clear about that, ”he said later.
From the perspective of Chief Patricia Bernard de Matawaskiye, one of the six Wolastoqey communities involved in the claim, that’s a scare tactic on the Higgs part.
“It’s also not clear that I’m going to buy a new truck tomorrow, but since I’m not saying that (it doesn’t mean that’s) what I’m going to do,” he said, speaking to the media after the prime minister’s press conference.
“Our claim establishes what we want, who we are pursuing, and what we did not put in the claim is what we are not doing.”
Bernard noted that while the original claim was filed a year ago, the government did not consider it appropriate to hold a press conference on it until the claim was amended to include some of the largest corporations in the province.
“It’s kind of disturbing that he continues with this fear-spreading problem where we did everything we could to try to alleviate those fears of the citizens of New Brunswick.”
“The only thing we are looking for is the land of these corporations, not a land claim for our traditional territory.”
The Higgs press conference appeared to be one more sign of the deterioration in relations between the province and the Wolastoqey First Nation.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn, who also attended the press conference, acknowledged the lack of communication between the two parties and accused Wolastoqey of politicizing those strained relations.
“You can only have a relationship with people who really want to have a relationship with you,” he said.
“If there is no communication, and it is only one-sided, then it is very difficult to build that relationship.”
But Higgs, later in the same briefing, said he had received a request from Wolastoqey bosses “a few weeks ago” to meet and discuss how the two sides would handle ongoing relationships.