Canada Needs To Work With First Nations To Win Support For Pipelines

January 2014, Vol. 241 No. 1

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s envoy to First Nations on western energy projects said there “has not been constructive dialogue” with aboriginal communities — something the government must take drastic steps to change if it is to win support for the projects.

That was the assessment from Douglas Eyford, appointed eight months ago by Harper to engage with First Nations, industry and governments to find a way forward on aboriginal rights and title related to two key energy projects.

His work is primarily focused on Enbridge’s proposed $6.5 billion pipeline to move Alberta oilsands production to a port at Kitimat, B.C., and Kinder Morgan’s $5.4 billion expansion of its existing oil pipeline to Burnaby, near Vancouver. Eyford described a lack of trust by First Nations, as well as the B.C. and Alberta government’s frustration with what they view as a federal system “comparatively leaden or indifferent” about collaborating with First Nations.

He offered recommendations to change that dynamic, including establishment of a Crown-First Nations-corporate “tripartite energy working group” to serve as a dialogue on energy projects. “I’m not sure it’s too late,” Eyford said about the possibility of re-establishing consultations with First Nations over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway line. He warned that projects are time-sensitive and important opportunities will be missed if relations continue on their current course.