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October 29, 2020 October 29, 2020

No easy answers in First Nations/energy relations

Posted on March 11, 2020 by Taber Times
SQUEEKY WHEEL: Projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline are poised to resume barring any further regulatory hurdles. TIMES FILE PHOTO

Alberta is still in the early days of a United Conservative government, though the increasing pace of issues and controversy the province faces is enough to make most think otherwise.

Add to the laundry list an new strategy to redefine Alberta’s relationship with First Nations – a topic that made up the majority of last month’s Speech from the Throne.

A new thrust to bring First Nations into the economic fabric of Canada will be bolstered by the new First Nations Economic Opportunities corporation, which would help bring in First Nations as investors in major resource development projects.

This comes not coincidently after a February full of rail blockades across the country to protest a B.C. natural gas pipeline (another main point in the speech is heavy fines and jail time for protesters on “critical infrastructure”).

The line is key point in Alberta’s economic plan as well to reinvigorate the flagging energy sector.

It was compounded with the announcement Teck Resources would withdraw an application to build a $20 billion oilsands mine. It was seized upon by all sides as further proof to their points.

The UCP pointed to lack of certainty in the approval process, and environmentalists also claimed victory. The company suggests strongly as well that the ongoing fight over national policy to address climate change (of which Alberta is a key combatant) was a key consideration.

But the whole month has been filled with increasingly urgent warnings, ultimatums and dire predictions about inaction and dithering on either getting trains moving or addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s also been highlighted to no end the fact many First Nations bands’ elected officials support the line and communities stand to benefit economically from the line. Which is true, and conservatives have taken up the position that the real colonial attitude is, in fact, those who would deprive economic opportunity.

This is a delicate argument that the Kenney Conservatives might be able to make to a majority of voters, but it’s thin ice at this point to tell Indigenous people how they should be operating in greater society. And if it is nearly impossible to get 10 provinces and three territories to agree on anything, try it with hundreds of First Nations groups.

Since climate change is being discussed as a problem of national, indeed global, scope, add in the complicated dimension of a move toward self-government for First Nations and a general hope for more consensus from the Justin Trudeau-led Liberal government.

So the end game may be to change the conversation.

In general, Westerners seek assurances that resource projects won’t be delayed by endless challenges and consultation. The majority don’t want a sort of veto power, or death by delay, to become standard operating procedure.

However, a standard of consultation is now nearly determined as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion moves along, albeit in fits and starts after a federal court ordered redo of major consultation pieces, which is now being challenged again.

Conservatives that call Ottawa’s purchase of the line a bumble from start to finish are now wondering if Alberta itself will take on similar stalled projects.

Bringing in First Nations to participate in projects fits with a number of conservative ideals.

It’s not far from the traditional Tory stance that handouts accomplish little in lasting change or the argument in some quarters of the aboriginal community that the system as it worked for decades perpetuates poverty.

It’s also an off-the-shelf blueprint to stickhandle the approval and consultation processes, and garner public support for major resource projects.

In terms of getting consensus, however, it’s hard to believe that will be the result, or is even the goal.

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