Ottawa’s last-minute pipeline talks worry B.C. First N ations leader
- Ottawa�s last-minute pipeline talks worry B.C. First Nations leader [Provided by iPolitics]
By James Munson<http://www.ipolitics.ca/author/james-munson-2/> | Sep 17, 2013 5:00 am |
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, at a news conference where he voiced his opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday July 30, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Ottawa is racing to avoid what one First Nations leader in B.C. described as a collision course between aboriginals and both federal and provincial levels of government over the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project later this year.
Natural Resources deputy minister Serge Dupont � along with colleagues from six other federal departments � have asked to meet with First Nations leaders in the province next Monday, just two weeks after Natural Resoures Minister Joe Oliver made similar rounds in early September.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which has been slow to sign a consultation agreement with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), is now scampering to have the deal done the day after Dupont�s meeting, September 24, according to UBCIC�s grand chief, Stewart Phillip.
The reason for the sudden interest is a preliminary report written by Ottawa�s special envoy on aboriginal engagement in West Coast energy infrastructure, Douglas Eyford, which was scheduled to have been delivered to the Prime Minister this past June.
�They�re looking for photo ops,� said Phillip, who said Eyford�s report was cited as the foundation for next week�s visits. �They�re trying to establish that there�s a record of robust dialogue with the First Nations of British Columbia, which is absolutely not the case.�
Ottawa�s timing is questionable because the official federal channels for approving the project have already finished their consultations.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel, funded and organized by the federal National Energy Board, took oral and written evidence on the pipeline�s perceived impacts from January 2012 until June 2013.
After nineteen months of hearings in towns and cities along the pipeline�s route, the panel closed the lid on the public record of evidence it can consider in issuing a final recommendation on the pipline.
That final report has to be issued to the federal cabinet by December 31, which will then decide whether to accept its findings or ask it to reconsider. Many First Nations expressed opposition to the pipeline in the record, as did the government of British Columbia, in its submissions.
The late timing has led Phillip speculate that the new meetings aren�t genuine.
�You can�t help but think they�ve already made a decision,� said Phillip. �They know there�s going to be serious repercussions when cabinet announces its going to overrule any joint review panel recommendation not to approve these projects because cabinet will declare it in the national interest.�
�That�s my gut feeling about this,� he said.
Dupont, in a letter inviting Phillip to the meeting next Monday, indicated that federal officials were also meeting with Grand Chief of the First Nations Summit Edward John and Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.
Officials from the departments of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Fisheries and Oceans, Transport, Western Economic Diversification, Environment and Employment and Social Development are also interested in meeting with B.C.�s First Nations, according to Phillip.
While Dupont�s letter didn�t indicate what level of official would be visiting, Phillip said he has received signals some of them could be ministers.
Eyford, the prime minister�s advisor on aboriginal engagement in the energy sector on the West Coast, was appointed this past March, more than three years after Enbridge first applied with the NEB to build the project and more than a year after NEB consultations began.
A Vancouver-based lawyer with a background in comprehensive land claim negotiations, Eyford declined to comment on the preliminary report citing its ongoing nature. A final report � which won�t be made public, according to Natural Resources Canada � will be delivered to the prime minister by November 29.
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