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Exclusive: Frozen Education funding was 'on the table' during 2013 shale gas negotiations

Docs show New Brunswick offered to endorse Elsipogtog's request for federal education funding, if it 'moved forward' on shale gas conversation

by Miles Howe

Documents we have obtained show that if conversations related to anti-shale gas moved forward to a satisfactory degree, the province of New Brunswick was willing to endorse Elsipogtog First Nation's request to the federal government to unfreeze education moneys.
Documents we have obtained show that if conversations related to anti-shale gas moved forward to a satisfactory degree, the province of New Brunswick was willing to endorse Elsipogtog First Nation's request to the federal government to unfreeze education moneys.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) -- Documents obtained through an Access to Information request by the Halifax Media Co-op suggest that 'frozen' funding, earmarked towards education services, was indeed an agenda item on the proverbial 'table' during high-level meetings between Elsipogtog First Nation Chief and Council and then-New Brunswick Premier, and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, David Alward. These meetings took place at the height of the anti-shale gas activities in New Brunswick in early October, 2013.

Readers will remember that Elsipogtog Chief Arren Sock, along with several councillors and provincial advisors in tow, held a series of meetings with then-Premier Alward, towards coming to some kind of agreement related to ongoing shale gas exploration activities in Kent County, New Brunswick.

At the time of the meetings, the situation 'on the ground' had reached a standstill, with activists having set up an encampment adjacent to a compound housing several million dollars worth of seismic testing equipment, located near the town of Rexton, New Brunswick. SWN, the Texas-based company contracted to do the exploration, could not work without this equipment. The Alward government of New Brunswick, contractually and politically tied to the completion of the seismic testing work, was actively attempting to get the encampment dissolved so that work might continue.

Towards this end, they organized the October meetings with Sock and Elsipogtog First Nation council. Ultimately, as demonstrated by the hundreds-strong Royal Canadian Mounted Police raid upon the encampment on October 17, 2013, despite what the Premier and the government might have hoped, Sock and council's influence upon the encampment had waned to the point that whatever agreements might be reached in the boardrooms, the encampment would still not come down. Brute force became the go-to method of operation.

In any case, the internal emails we have obtained provide further credibility to a series of hand written notes that Aboriginal Peoples Television Network reporter Jorge Barerra first made public on October 9, 2013. These notes, which Barerra attributed to having been written by Chief Sock during the meetings, suggest that a variety of 'carrots', including “healing to wellness court funding”, a “tax agreement” and “housing” were being offered to Elsipogtog Chief and Council in return for assistance in dismantling the encampment.

To this set of potential 'perks', we can now add an endorsement from the New Brunswick government to the federal government to authorize the release of education funding being held at the federal level.

The first email in the series, dated Wednesday, October 2, 2013, is written by New Brunswick Aboriginal Affairs Deputy Minister Patrick Francis. It reads as follows:

Hi Jean,

I just received a call from Dallas and he has indicated that councillor Robert will be at the Premier's meeting with Chief Sock.

Hopefully the conversation is specific to moving forward and not just a request to bail them out by authorizing the release of the education funding being held by the feds.

Patrick”

What the “held” education funding in question is is not made entirely clear, but is likely related to a pool of moneys potentially held by the federal department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, meant to make up the well-documented discrepancy in federal funding allocated to on-reserve students when compared to monies provided, at the provincial level, to off-reserve students.

While we have not yet obtained governmental notes – if any were indeed taken – of the meetings that subsequently took place between Elsipogtog Chief and Council and the New Brunswick government, the next email, dated October 7, 2013, suggests that whatever conversation did take place, it 'moved forward' to enough of a satisfactory degree for the provincial government to endorse the unfreezing of the held education funds meant for Elsipogtog First Nation.

It reads as follows:

Good morning gentlemen,

In preparation for this afternoon's meeting between the Premier and Chief Sock would either of you want to original letter authorizing the support for the release of the education funding which has been frozen at the AANDC? (just in case I'm not in the room this afternoon)

I still have not heard anything from Wendell yet but I sent him an email explaining that it is our hope and desire that the Chief's negotiating team would only consist of a handful of support personal and the province would also be reflective of a smaller representation.

This would allow for a more direct conversation.

Let me know if you want the education letter prior to 1 o'clock.

Patrick”

 

 


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