Most aboriginal communities in northern British Columbia impacted by the Northern Gateway pipeline supported the $7.9 billion project and are angry Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected it, say representatives of three of the bands.
Elmer Ghostkeeper of the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement, Chief Elmer Derrick of the Gitxsan Nation, and Dale Swampy of the Samson Cree Nation said on the sidelines of a private meeting in Calgary on Friday with oilpatch leaders they are disappointed in the “political decision,” which they say was made without their input.
They are now looking for ways to generate new energy development.
Ghostkeeper said more than 30 of the 42 bands on the Alberta-to-West Coast pipeline’s right-of-way were looking forward to sharing in the construction and long-term benefits.
“Their expectations were really raised with the promise of $2 billion set aside in business and employment opportunities,” Ghostkeeper said before addressing the Canadian Energy Executive Association at the Calgary Petroleum Club. “Equity was offered to aboriginal communities, and with the change in government that was all taken away. We are very disappointed in this young government.”
Ghostkeeper said he’d like to see an oil pipeline revived, but led by aboriginals. “We have to partner with the oil and gas industry and be treated as equals, not as token, because any natural resource project that is going to take place on traditional lands has to be given free, informed, prior consent now. The old ways of doing business doesn’t cut it.”
Derrick said his band was supportive from the outset, but the Prime Minister didn’t want to hear from supportive communities. “The fact that the Prime Minister chose not to consult with people in northwestern B.C. disappointed us very much,” he said.
Swampy said some of the bands are discussing legal action against the federal government for rejecting the project without proper consultation.
“They understand that it was a political decision, and not a decision acting in the best interests of Canadians,” Swampy said. “They weren’t asked about the financial effect, the lost employment. They are trying to get themselves out of poverty, the welfare system that they are stuck to, and every time they try to do something like that, it’s destroyed.”
Saying “the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline and the Douglas Channel is no place for oil tanker traffic,” Trudeau killed Northern Gateway last November. The Enbridge Inc. project had received regulatory approval, as well as approval from the previous Conservative government, after a decade of planning and more than half a billion in spending.
Trudeau also imposed a ban on tanker traffic on the northern B.C. Coast, while approving Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline expansion and the upgrading of Enbridge’s Line 3.
The decision came after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that Ottawa had not adequately consulted with indigenous communities.
Environmental groups and a number of coastal First Nations waged a relentless campaign against Northern Gateway, arguing the risk of spills outweighed the economic benefits of opening a new market for Canadian oil in Asia.
Michael Binnion, a director of the energy association and the president and CEO of Questerre Energy Corp., said the pipeline’s rejection had devastating consequences for northern Aboriginals.
“This (was) a multi-generational opportunity to eliminate poverty in over two dozen of our first nations and metis communities,” he said.
“It’s also a direct loss. These communities have put two years or more of their lives. They invested legal fees and money in reaching these agreements to share in the benefits of the pipelines going through their traditional use areas.”