Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said the federal government is opening an office in British Columbia to step up talks with aboriginal groups on pipelines and other energy infrastructure.
Staff in the office will also work with industry and provincial governments to “address the unique elements of energy exports in B.C.,” Natural Resources Canada said in a news release today. Canada will set up a “tripartite forum” on aboriginal issues with the B.C. government and First Nations leaders, according to the statement.
“We want to invite First Nations to be full participants in resource development so they can become fully integrated into both the economic and environmental aspects of projects,” Rickford said according to the text of a speech today in Prince Rupert, B.C.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is trying to broaden support for new pipelines as his government prepares to rule on Enbridge Inc.’s proposed C$6.5 billion ($6.0 billion) Northern Gateway, which would carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific coast. Harper’s cabinet has until June 17 to rule on the project, after a regulatory panel recommended approving it subject to 209 conditions.
Crude producers say Northern Gateway is needed to ease bottlenecks that are depressing the price of Canadian heavy oil. Aboriginal groups argue the project brings with it the risk of spills, with some saying the government hasn’t adequately consulted them.
Rickford’s announcement addresses recommendations made in December by Douglas Eyford, a lawyer appointed by Harper to review aboriginal concerns about resource development. In his report, Eyford advised establishing a “sustained presence of senior officials on the ground in British Columbia” to coordinate government engagement with aboriginals.
The government set up the Major Projects Management Office in 2007 to support regulatory reviews of resource developments. The new British Columbia branch office will be located in Vancouver.
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has said her province will only back the pipeline if it satisfies five conditions, including the federal government addressing aboriginal concerns.