Harper approach to resource development not in national interest

The true cost of accounting of indigenous economics would stop Northern Gateway in its tracks

VICTORIA, BC, Jan 20, 2014/ Troy Media/ – The Joint Review Panel from the National Energy Board released its report on December 19, 2013, approving Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal with 209 conditions.

The federal cabinet must give its final say for the project within 180 days of the report. The Conservatives have been vocally supportive of all oil export expansion, spending millions of taxpayer’s money to lobby and advertise on behalf of the oil industry. The Northern Gateway pipeline would span 1,177 km linking Bruderheim, Alberta with Kitimat on Canada’s west coast. The pitch is to access Asian markets in Canada’s national interest.

Norway – the world’s seventh largest oil exporter – has a policy framework in place much different than Canada. The oil assets in Norway – the equivalent of a Crown resource in Canada that is shared ownership by the public – have contributed to the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund – the Government Pension Fund Global. The fund has reached the equivalent of US$818 billion and contributes as much as four per cent of assets annually to benefit the Norwegian economy and its people. This is policy in the national interest.

In Canada, the government’s approach is to deregulate environmental protection, loosen foreign ownership regulations, and spend tax dollars marketing for foreign investment, then allow vertically integrated foreign interests access to Canadian natural resources at prices that they can essentially set by controlling the entire value chain. Foreign ownership in the oil sands has reached 71 per cent according to research by Forest Ethics Advocacy. Canada’s energy policy is essentially selling out our sovereign wealth for short-term gain.

This is the re-colonization of Canada. The Northern Gateway is a prime example of the engrained mental model of the colonial Canadian psyche.

When speaking before the Vancouver Board of Trade on January 6, Stephen Harper was asked about providing certainty for investment relative to First Nation’s “treaty rights and title” for natural resource projects. Harper spoke from the “lens of economic opportunity” rather than from one of “treaty, consultation and constitutional obligations”: “For the first time in Canadian history, [there is] the prospect of significant economic development – resource development, not just in British Columbia, but elsewhere in the country – in regions where Aboriginal people are often the dominant population and where there have been no similar large scale economic opportunities before. If handled correctly this is an unprecedented opportunity for Aboriginal people and their communities to join the mainstream of the Canadian economy.” Harper clearly does not want to acknowledge constitutional obligations, but would rather sell his colonial assimilation policy.

The big story of the day of his speech was protestors parading signs saying “Climate Justice Now” behind Stephen Harper, who calmly and cleverly commented, “It wouldn’t be B.C. without it.”

Not so clever though is Harper’s consultation to fulfill constitutional obligations affirmed by Supreme Court of Canada decisions. Many of these court cases were brought forward by First Nations from B.C. – the Wet’suwet’en, the Gitxsan, the Haida, the Taku River Tlingit to name a few. This same resolve to protect the traditional territories that indigenous peoples have been entrusted to steward for thousands of years is stronger than ever with B.C.’s First Nations.

The biggest hurdle for the Northern Gateway is not the 209 conditions from the Joint Review Panel report, but the federal governments relationship with the First Nations of B.C. Doug Eyford, Harper’s special envoy for West Coast energy, stated this in his recent report.

Harper clearly does not understand that economic assimilation and re-colonization of indigenous territories will not satisfy constitutional obligations. B.C. is a place inhabited by people connected to the land, whether indigenous to it or not. Most British Columbians are indigenized in their worldviews.

The true cost of accounting of indigenous economics will stop the Northern Gateway in the national interest of energy security and sovereign wealth. It wouldn’t be B.C. without it.

Lee White is a Senior Advisor with GMG Consulting (Good Medicine Group), which works with Aboriginal communities and organizations, as well as government and resource-based industries, to support Aboriginal self-determination.

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