11/17/2016 11:18 EST | Updated 11/17/2016 11:33 EST

Denying B.C. First Nations Consent On Pipelines Is A Big Mistake

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Canada's Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr recently declared the federal government will not require the full, prior and informed consent from First Nations when it decides whether or not to allow Kinder Morgan to build a new crude oil pipeline through British Columbia.

The minister's "ram it through reserves" attitude threatens to undermine careful work undertaken by others to move ahead with economic development in B.C. through genuine co-management arrangements with First Nations. It also shows the minister is willing to jeopardize other resource development projects just to show he can build pipelines. His B.C. Liberal colleagues need to tell him to back off.

Minister Carr is a rookie MP unfamiliar with British Columbia politics. However, even the most basic research should reveal the folly of his approach as there are few formal treaties with First Nations in B.C. and court case after court case -- including Delgamuukw, Haida and the unanimous Tsilhqot'in Supreme Court decision -- recognizes and reinforces the inherent rights of First Nations to determine what happens within their traditional territories.

Minister Carr has decided he can push a pipeline through the over 100 First Nations territories and 15 reserves without consent.

The most fruitful way forward for resource development in B.C. appears to be through true co-management. Co-management moves beyond mere consent, to full and meaningful partnerships -- which require building a tremendous amount of trust through good-faith government-to-government negotiations and bringing in mature private sector partners.

Minister Carr's amateurism reminds me of when then-newly-elected B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's held his ill-advised and racist Treaty Negotiations referendum in 2002. In his arrogance, Campbell clumsily attempted to use a populist measure to overrule inherent indigenous rights. This approach angered B.C. First Nations -- perhaps best captured by a flaming arrow igniting a canoe full of ballot papers -- and deeply damaged indigenous/non-indigenous relations.

Gordon Campbell was forced to do a humiliating policy pirouette when business leaders informed him his actions undermined their ability to negotiate meaningful partnerships with First Nations, increasing their uncertainty and decreasing their willingness to invest in mines, forestry, and energy projects.


Photo by Turtle Island Native Network

So here we go again. Minister Carr has decided he can push a pipeline through the over 100 First Nations territories and 15 reserves without consent.

Here's how this plays out in the minister's mind: Alberta gets its pipeline, Kinder Morgan gets approximately $5 million per day in new revenues, and Carr gets to gloat in Ottawa.

Kinder Morgan's new pipeline is a very bad deal for all B.C. communities.

Here's what the minister is overlooking: B.C. gets a mere 50 permanent jobs from the new pipeline as well as all the joy of having to deal with 1000s of temporary foreign workers building a pipeline using steel from China. We also take on a hugely increased risk of land and water-based bitumen spills with little or no capacity to clean them up (Bella Bella is the latest example). Homes will be expropriated in communities along the pipeline route, protesters arrested and, worst of all, our burgeoning relationship with First Nations willing to take a chance on co-management will be harmed.

People might not believe me when I say I am pro-resource development because of my five-year fight against Kinder Morgan's new pipeline. But I am pro-resource development -- as long as it is respectful and sustainable. My grandfather built a series of hydro-electric dams in Nova Scotia. My uncles, cousins and brother are life-long foresters. I even defend Kinder Morgan's current pipeline, which brings oil to B.C. which we refine in Burnaby's Chevron refinery and use locally. But any new pipeline must be truly beneficial to the communities through which it will pass.

Kinder Morgan's new pipeline is a very bad deal for all B.C. communities. The vast majority of those who have looked closely at this proposal agree -- even the minister's own ad hoc review panel. Everyone but Minister Carr recognizes resource development in B.C. starts with First Nations deciding whether or not to develop their territories for the sustainable benefit of future generations. I hope he realizes his mistake before he sets B.C. resource development back for decades.

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