Canada Said to Aim to Bolster Aboriginal Pipeline Support

The Canadian government is poised to take another step to boost support for pipelines as it prepares to rule on Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway project.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford plans to announce his department will set up a new branch office based in British Columbia to oversee discussions with aboriginal groups, two people briefed on the matter said yesterday. The announcement may take place as early as next week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

The branch will be part of the Major Projects Management Office based in Ottawa that was created in 2007 to support regulatory reviews of resource developments.

Rickford’s announcement will address recommendations made in December by Douglas Eyford, a lawyer appointed by Harper to review aboriginal concerns about resource development. In his report, Eyford advised building on the Major Projects Management Office model to establish a “sustained presence of senior officials on the ground in British Columbia” to coordinate government engagement with aboriginals.

The federal government “is carefully reviewing Mr. Eyford’s report, and has committed to taking concrete action in response to his recommendations,” Rickford said in the text of a speech he gave in Vancouver last night. “I look forward to announcing our government’s response to Mr. Eyford’s response shortly.”

The government should implement the majority of the recommendations made by Eyford, rather than “cherry pick” from the report, said Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of British Columbia-based aboriginal groups that opposes Northern Gateway.

‘Meaningful Engagement’

“It has to be meaningful engagement,” Sterritt said in a telephone interview. “The federal government has the legal responsibility to do this.”

Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that, under the nation’s constitution, the federal government has a duty to consult aboriginal groups on projects that might affect their rights.

Eyford urged the government to “take decisive steps to build trust with aboriginal Canadians, to foster their inclusion into the economy, and to advance the reconciliation of aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people in Canadian society.”

He recommended the government establish a “federal framework and timeframe” for consulting aboriginal groups on resource projects, as well as appoint at least one “senior official” to lead the discussions with aboriginals, industry and provincial officials.

June 17

Any measures the government announces in response to Eyford’s report would be designed to enhance engagement and collaboration with aboriginals, rather than boost support for any particular project or commodity, Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Rickford, said in an e-mail yesterday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet has until June 17 to rule on Northern Gateway, a proposed C$6.5 billion ($6 billion) pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific Coast. A regulatory panel recommended approving the project in December, subject to 209 conditions.

Crude producers say the route 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.

Premier Christy Clark has said British Columbia will only back the pipeline if it satisfies five conditions, including the federal government addressing aboriginal concerns.

“Northern Gateway remains committed to re-engage and consult with First Nations and aboriginal communities and to build on progress already made,” Ivan Giesbrecht, a Vancouver-based Enbridge spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday, adding the company’s priority is to work with existing and future aboriginal equity partners.

Last week, the government announced measures to prevent spills from pipelines and tankers carrying crude.

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