The Manitoba Metis Federation has appointed a blue-ribbon committee to advise it on how to set up a legacy fund ahead of negotiations with the federal government to settle what could be a multibillion-dollar land-claims dispute.
MMF president David Chartrand said the ultimate goal is to create a fund that will benefit Métis people and all Manitobans and Canadians for generations to come.
The first four members of the committee introduced Wednesday include Paul Martin, the former Liberal prime minister and finance minster; Hartley Richardson, CEO of the 156-year-old James Richardson & Sons Ltd., a multibillion-dollar family-owned business; Sandy Riley, CEO of Richardson Financial Group; Harvey Secter, chancellor of the University of Manitoba (and a member of the board of directors of FP Newspapers Inc., the company that owns the Free Press); and Eric Newell, the former chairman and CEO of Syncrude Canada Ltd.
Martin said there are likely two more additions that will be made to the committee.
"This committee is about investment and economic opportunities, it is not a political committee," Chartrand said. "It has nothing to do with politics. They will work with the MMF and our economic-development organization to lead us to better investment and business opportunities."
The upcoming settlement negotiations were made possible by the landmark Supreme Court decision in March. The court ruled the Canadian government failed to live up to the promises it made to the Métis people when it negotiated for Manitoba's entry into Canadian Confederation in 1870.
While none of the players would allow themselves to be pinned down on any specifics -- Chartrand would only say that in appeal hearings the Canadian government has said it could be worth billions -- the overwhelming theme of the message was a mechanism would be set up to manage the funds so there will be a long-lasting legacy for the Métis people.
"There are a number of reasons we are all here," Martin said. "The one that struck us all the most is that we all do not want the settlement to be a one-shot deal but one that will last for generations. That is the vision. This is not for the year 2013. This is for 2020, 2030, 2040... "
Chartrand said it was still unclear when the negotiations with Canada would begin. The MMF has formally requested Chuck Strahl, the former minister of Indian and northern affairs, be Ottawa's negotiator.
He said the MMF will have its negotiator in place by the end of the year at the latest. There was no speculation as to when a settlement is expected.
The advisory committee could provide input on the negotiation strategy, but its primary duty will be to help figure out the best way to manage and administer the funds when they are awarded.
"Most importantly, our job is to advise on how to structure and manage and oversee a fund of this nature for decades to come," said Riley, who is also the former CEO of Investors Group. "There are a lot of key principles (that need to be in place) such as transparency and openness. And it's not just the management of the money but also distribution of the funds."
In an interview, Richardson said, "It may resemble something like the Winnipeg Foundation, in a sense. It will be responsibly and professionally managed and conservatively managed such that there be -- as best as there can ever be -- relative certainty that this is in fact a legacy fund and be here for generations."
Chartrand said he is seeking input from MMF advisers about what currently are the greatest needs in the Métis community. He spoke about ideas such as creating a facility to help first-time homebuyers from the Métis community get mortgages and vision-care assistance for Métis pensioners.