Con­sent with First Na­tions can be­come murky

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - FORUM - VAUGHN PALMER [email protected]

VIC­TO­RIA — B.C. Pre­mier John Hor­gan re­it­er­ated a strong en­dorse­ment of the $40 bil­lion LNG Canada pro­ject Wed­nes­day, say­ing it had met the NDP test for se­cur­ing con­sent from First Na­tions.

“It has been my view that LNG Canada has shown they un­der­stand the im­por­tance of consultation and mean­ing­ful rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with First Na­tions,” Hor­gan told re­porters in the leg­is­la­ture press the­atre.

“All na­tions from well­head to wa­ter­line had signed im­pact ben­e­fit agree­ments,” he con­tin­ued. “We be­lieve that LNG Canada has met the obli­ga­tions that we asked them to achieve.”

Those ben­e­fit agree­ments, val­ued in the hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, fig­ured promi­nently in Hor­gan’s en­dorse­ment back in Oc­to­ber when Shell and part­ners reached fi­nal in­vest­ment de­ci­sion for the Kiti­mat-based LNG ter­mi­nal.

The pre­mier framed his com­ments as a re­ply to na­tion­wide protests over RCMP ac­tion to re­move a First Na­tions en­camp­ment in the path of the nat­u­ral gas pipe­line for the pro­ject.

“When it comes to this pro­ject in the north par­tic­u­larly, there are na­tions that are wildly en­thu­si­as­tic about the prospects that this opens up for their fu­ture and I think that that needs to be bal­anced in the cov­er­age of the protests from yes­ter­day.”

Hor­gan ac­knowl­edged the right to protest, say­ing he has him­self been there and done that in ear­lier days in the po­lit­i­cal arena.

But he couldn’t re­sist point­ing out how some of the par­tic­i­pants were “not uni­formly focused” on the ter­ri­tory of the Wet’suwet’en First Na­tion, where the protest en­camp­ment is lo­cated.

“There are no or­cas on Wet’suwet’en ter­ri­tory,” he said, ref­er­enc­ing three in­flat­a­bles that fea­tured in the protest out­side the leg­is­la­ture.

“There were those talk­ing about di­luted bi­tu­men. There were those talk­ing about erad­i­cat­ing cap­i­tal­ism. There was a whole bunch of dis­con­tent on dis­play for Cana­di­ans to see yes­ter­day.”

Turn­ing to the specifics of the stand­off at the en­camp­ment in Wet’suwet’en ter­ri­tory, Hor­gan noted that a court in­junc­tion was in place and po­lice were act­ing to en­force it.

“If pro­test­ers are break­ing the law, there are con­se­quences for that and that’s why 14 peo­ple were ar­rested,” said the pre­mier.

Hor­gan pro­ceeded more del­i­cately when dis­cussing the role of hered­i­tary chiefs of the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en in es­tab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing the protest against the nat­u­ral gas pipe­line.

The en­camp­ment was es­tab­lished al­most 10 years ago, and ex­panded over the years to in­clude a bar­ri­cade on a bridge and a metal gate on a for­est road.

The New Democrats, as a mat­ter of pol­icy, try to al­low First Na­tions to sort out con­sent among them­selves.

But the elected coun­cil of the Wet’suwet’en signed a ben­e­fit­shar­ing agree­ment for the pro­ject even as the hold­outs main­tained their protest en­camp­ment.

Hor­gan un­der­scored the com­plex­i­ties of deal­ing with that par­tic­u­lar First Na­tion, which has 13 houses, five clans and (by some es­ti­mates) more than 100 hered­i­tary chiefs.

Nev­er­the­less, he tried last Au­gust to in­ter­vene with the Wet’suwet’en lead­ers, in­clud­ing some of the hered­i­tary chiefs.

But he was un­suc­cess­ful. So when LNG Canada was green­lighted, the New Democrats cited the sup­port of the elected lead­er­ship as ev­i­dence of con­sent by the Wet’suwet’en.

The for­mal consultation process on the pro­ject has now con­cluded, says Hor­gan, though “we con­tinue to be open for dia­logue for hered­i­tary lead­er­ship in that com­mu­nity.”

The pre­mier also dealt in pass­ing with ac­cu­sa­tions that cab­i­net min­is­ter Doug Don­ald­son crossed a line when mak­ing a courtesy call to the en­camp­ment be­fore po­lice moved in.

He re­ferred re­porters to the state­ment, is­sued ear­lier in the week by Don­ald­son in his ca­pac­ity as an NDP MLA from the re­gion.

“I vis­ited the check­point on the in­vi­ta­tion of my con­stituents and hered­i­tary chiefs to hear their con­cerns and ob­serve their pro­to­cols,” said Don­ald­son.

“At the same time I am aware that the laws of Canada must be up­held and court in­junc­tions must be fol­lowed. This il­lus­trates how two sys­tems of law are col­lid­ing and un­der­lines the im­por­tance of the sep­a­rate rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process our gov­ern­ment has un­der­taken with the Wet’suwet’en.”

As Hor­gan sees it, Don­ald­son was sim­ply try­ing to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open.

But for all the clar­i­fi­ca­tions and qual­i­fi­ca­tions, Hor­gan was un­able to spec­ify the NDP po­si­tion on the broader mean­ing of “con­sent” by First Na­tions.

He has en­dorsed the UN Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of Indige­nous Peo­ples with its guar­an­tee of “free, prior and in­formed con­sent” for First Na­tions on projects within their tra­di­tional ter­ri­to­ries.

He in­cor­po­rated the UNDRIP prin­ci­ples into the march­ing or­ders for all min­is­ters. But it remains a work in progress.

For in­stance, the pre­mier in­sists that free, prior and in­formed con­sent is not the same as a veto. But when asked Wed­nes­day what it does mean, he replied there is no sim­ple an­swer.

“I know peo­ple would pre­fer to have, what’s the an­swer, yes or no, but there isn’t one,” said the pre­mier, adding “ev­ery cir­cum­stance is dif­fer­ent.”

For LNG Canada, the test has been met, ac­cord­ing to Hor­gan, which is doubt­less re­as­sur­ing to Shell, its part­ners, and the First Na­tions in line for all those ben­e­fits.

But when asked how other wouldbe in­vestors in other projects should be guided, the pre­mier said they should re­search the cir­cum­stances thor­oughly, then ap­proach the rel­e­vant First Na­tions.

Which is a long way from say­ing the prov­ince is open for in­vest­ment on the fast track. But given the murky un­cer­tain­ties of the NDP in­ter­pre­ta­tion of First Na­tions con­sent, it will have to do for now.

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