Coastal First Nations in British Columbia have aimed an anti-oil tanker campaign directly at Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an apparent attempt to counter a federal push to get aboriginal leaders onside with resource development in the West.
A video featuring a Simon & Garfunkel song, The Sound of Silence, and dramatic images of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989, all builds to the message: "British Columbians have spoken. Will Stephen Harper listen?"
The ad was released Monday on television and YouTube as deputy ministers from five federal departments met in Vancouver with First Nations leaders in what is seen as the biggest effort yet by Ottawa to smooth the way for energy projects proposed in B.C.
Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, an alliance of aboriginal groups, said the meetings taking place Monday and Tuesday could lead to a breakthrough in relations between native organizations and the federal government.
But that won't happen, he said, until Ottawa takes the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal off the table.
"There's no doubt they'll get the message that Northern Gateway is dead. If they don't get that out of the way we don't need to talk about anything else," said Mr. Sterritt.
He said although First Nations in B.C. are taking a hard line on the Enbridge proposal, they are open discussing other energy projects – particularly liquefied natural gas.
"They are going to be told there is room for a relationship … and they really do need to get involved in perhaps providing loan guarantees, for example … [to] help First Nations buy large portions of [LNG] pipeline projects," he said.
Mr. Sterritt said the ad campaign, which is similar to one unveiled earlier this year to coincide with the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez accident, is aimed at Mr. Harper because First Nations are convinced the pipeline proposed by Enbridge will ultimately be his call.
"The decision has now moved from the joint review panel to Harper. That's where it lies," said Mr. Sterritt.
He said he believes that Mr. Harper wants to see the Enbridge project go through, but has got the message through his new energy adviser, B.C. lawyer Douglas Eyford, that that's unlikely to happen given aboriginal opposition.
"I think Eyford has sobered them up a little bit. That's why we are seeing all these [deputy ministers] out here. They are realizing they need to have a relationship with us before any projects can go through," said Mr. Sterritt.
He said he couldn't remember First Nations ever meeting with such a large group of deputies before and it underscores the newfound urgency Ottawa is putting on its relationship with B.C. aboriginal groups.
"There's never been a group of deputies come out like this before. Never happened," he said. "I think Eyford told the Prime Minister there is no relationship out here and you've got to build one. I also think the Prime Minister realizes Northern Gateway is dead and that they need to take this time to build relationships [so other developments can proceed]."
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, the federal government lead on the pipeline debate, wasn't immediately available for comment.
But Christopher McCluskey, a ministry spokesman, said in an e-mail the government "aren't the proponents of any commercial proposal (EG, Enbridge)."
He added that the meetings in B.C. are meant to encourage First Nation participation in projects in general but they are not specifically related to oil and gas.
"We are … constructively working with FN to achieve market access. In terms of what that would look like and when … [that's to be determined]," he wrote.
The Coastal First Nations ad release comes just a week after the Canadian Chamber of Commerce launched a public campaign supporting the construction of new oil and gas pipelines.