First Nations lobby against tanker ban off B.C. coast

The Globe and Mail (BC Edition) - - BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUSTIN GIOVANNETTI With a re­port from Jef­frey Jones

Al­berta Premier, chiefs say Bill C-48 would kill Ea­gle Spirit pipe­line backed by dozens of Indige­nous lead­ers

Sev­eral Indige­nous groups across West­ern Canada are back­ing a First Nations-led pipe­line pro­posal that has re­ceived the en­dorse­ment of Al­berta Premier Rachel Notley and which they say would serve as an al­ter­na­tive to the im­per­illed Trans Moun­tain ex­pan­sion.

How­ever, a fed­eral law mak­ing its way through the Se­nate would leg­is­late a ban on oil-tanker traf­fic off of Bri­tish Columbia’s North Coast and would quash their hopes for fu­ture de­vel­op­ment. Such a law, they ar­gue, would be a vi­o­la­tion of their Indige­nous rights.

The clash­ing in­ter­ests of First Nations look­ing at pipe­lines as an eco­nomic life­line while other Indige­nous groups op­pose tanker traf­fic on en­vi­ron­men­tal grounds will leave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fac­ing a dilemma be­fore next year’s fed­eral elec­tion. The pro­posed tanker ban has al­ready raised the ire of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in Al­berta and Saskatchewan.

Calvin Helin is the pres­i­dent of Ea­gle Spirit En­ergy Hold­ings. His com­pany is eyeing an en­ergy cor­ri­dor across Bri­tish Columbia’s north where he says he has se­cured 100-per-cent back­ing from lo­cal chiefs. Mr. Helin’s pro­posal turns the usual pipe­line process on its head: First he de­signed the pipe­line pro­ject over three years of talks with 35 lo­cal chiefs, and only af­ter ob­tain­ing their con­sent has he started look­ing for the money to make the dream a re­al­ity. He wouldn’t dis­close whether he had se­cured any fund­ing ar­range­ments.

“You can’t build a pro­ject like this with­out the First Nations on side, even our so-called rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Prime Minister is learn­ing that with Trans Moun­tain,” Mr. Helin told The Globe and Mail. The Trans Moun­tain pipe­line ex­pan­sion from Al­berta to Burn­aby, B.C., is stalled af­ter a court rul­ing said, among other things, that con­sul­ta­tion with First Nations com­mu­ni­ties was in­suf­fi­cient.

The route for the $12-bil­lion Ea­gle Spirit pipe­line would link Fort Mc­Mur­ray, Alta., with a new ex­port ter­mi­nal about 30 kilo­me­tres north of Prince Ru­pert, B.C. Built near Mr. Helin’s home of the Lax Kw’alaams band, the ter­mi­nal would be only a few kilo­me­tres from the Alaska border. It faces many hur­dles, in­clud­ing the chal­lenge of sell­ing the idea in Al­berta’s oil patch, a lack of fi­nanc­ing and the likely op­po­si­tion of other Indige­nous bands that res­o­lutely op­posed En­bridge’s North­ern Gate­way pro­ject which would have had its terminus 260 kilo­me­tres fur­ther south.

But the tanker ban, also known as Bill C-48, would make the pro­ject im­pos­si­ble.

Ms. Notley has called on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to can­cel the tanker ban and amend an­other piece of leg­is­la­tion, Bill C-69, which over­hauls the reg­u­la­tory process be­hind pipe­line ap­provals. She has cited the Ea­gle Spirit pipe­line as an ex­am­ple of the projects that would be killed by the leg­is­la­tion.

“The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is telling First Nations to park their plans and park their eco­nomic am­bi­tions. Re­ally, is that the mes­sage we want to send?” she said in late Novem­ber in Ot­tawa.

The Premier has stepped up her op­po­si­tion to the tanker ban in re­cent weeks as Al­berta has faced an eco­nomic cri­sis be­cause of the widen­ing gap be­tween the price of Cana­dian oil and benchmark in­ter­na­tional oil prices.

Chief Isaac Labou­can-Avi­rom from the Wood­land Cree First Na­tion said the tanker ban would kill his com­mu­nity’s eco­nomic am­bi­tions. He said his peo­ple feel that as a sovereign na­tion, they should be al­lowed to pro­ceed re­spon­si­bly with the few op­por­tu­ni­ties they are pre­sented with.

“There hasn’t been real con­sul­ta­tion. You have op­po­si­tion from First Nations, in­dus­try and politi­cians, ba­si­cally across-the­board. How did it get this far? There is some­thing flawed with this. There’s some form of prej­u­dice here or a pre­med­i­tated agenda that isn’t be­ing ac­knowl­edged,” he said.

“I want to see our en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards im­proved, even from what they are to­day. But to im­prove en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards doesn’t mean we need to kill all our eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties. We just need to be more in­no­va­tive.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Helin and Chief Labou­can-Avi­rom, a num­ber of First Nations will file com­plaints un­der the United Nations Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of Indige­nous Peo­ples if the tanker ban be­comes law.

Sup­ported by Mr. Trudeau, the UN doc­u­ment says na­tional gov­ern­ments should not cur­tail the de­vel­op­ment of First Nations. Chief Labou­can-Avi­rom plans to travel to Ot­tawa next week with a dozen more chiefs to present their con­cerns to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

A spokes­woman for fed­eral Trans­port Minister Marc Garneau, who tabled the tank er ban, said he has met with a num­ber of hered­i­tary chiefs of First Nations, as well as po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, who have ex­pressed sup­port for the ban.

“No re­la­tion­ship is more im- por­tant to Canada than the one with Indige­nous Peo­ples and that is why the Gov­ern­ment of Canada con­sulted ex­ten­sively with Indige­nous groups, com­mu­ni­ties and stake­hold­ers to gather in­put on the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion for the tanker mora­to­rium,” Mr. Garneau’s of­fice said in a state­ment.

Ea­gle Spirit has earned the sup­port of some First Nations that had op­posed North­ern Gate­way, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Helin. Hes ays the pro­posed pipe­line would ad­here to strict en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards and would use only partly up­graded bi­tu­men that would float in the case of a spill.

Martin King, an­a­lyst at GMP First En­ergy, said an Indige­nous-driven pro­ject makes sense, given the reg­u­la­tory and le­gal hur­dles that pipe­line de­vel­op­ers face. In­deed, there are re­cent in­no­va­tive mod­els for par­tic­i­pa­tion and fi­nanc­ing, in­clud­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of a Fort Mc­Mur­ray-area oil stor­age fa­cil­ity, which in­cluded a $545-mil­lion bond is­sue led by the Fort McKay and the Mikisew Cree First Nations.

“So maybe that will carry some weight in the First Nations com­mu­nity, and maybe ul­ti­mately will carry enough weight to get a pro­ject to the fin­ish line,” Mr. King said. How­ever, start­ing any pro­ject from scratch now would mean that any ben­e­fits to the in­dus­try would still be many years off, he said.


Calvin Helin, pres­i­dent of Ea­gle Spirit En­ergy Hold­ings, is seen in Van­cou­ver in May, 2018. He says his com­pany de­signed its pipe­line pro­ject over three years of talks with lo­cal First Nations chiefs.

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