Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Ottawa to blame for First Nations’ pipeline stand, PM appointee says

Doug Eyford poses for a photograph in Coquitlam, B.C., on Sunday June 9, 2013. Since his appointment three months ago as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's envoy for First Nations and energy issues in Western Canada, Doug Eyford has mostly stayed out of the public eye. He has been spending almost half his days on the road, seeking to identify First Nations concerns about the development of oil and gas pipelines across B.C. Then he will recommend ways to accommodate them.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The federal government must shoulder much of the blame for the entrenched opposition to the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, says the Prime Minister's special envoy on aboriginal and energy issues.

Doug Eyford says the Enbridge project – which Ottawa declared to be in the national interest – has foundered in large measure because industry was left alone to navigate complex First Nations issues, when there should have been more political oversight. His remarks were made last week at a conference for treaty negotiators, industry and government, and a copy of his address was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

"I've been surprised at the extent to which the federal government has been content to allow project proponents like Enbridge to engage aboriginal communities with little or no Crown oversight, direction, or assistance," Mr. Eyford said.

Story continues below advertisement

Ottawa's decision on Enbridge's pipeline proposal to get Alberta oil to the B.C. coast, opening up international markets, could be announced as early as today. The federal cabinet is expected to give Northern Gateway a green light, but the project still faces significant hurdles that have increased with each passing month. Northern Gateway, 10 years after it was first proposed, now faces a battery of legal challenges and threats of civil disobedience, led by First Nations.

Mr. Eyford was appointed in 2013 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to gain aboriginal support for proposed energy projects in British Columbia worth about $100-billion. In his final report, Mr. Eyford concluded that the federal government needs to do more to build relationships with First Nations, and recommended cultural awareness training for federal officials at all levels.

Six months since his report was tabled, Ottawa has still not fully responded to it. In his speech last week, Mr. Eyford said the federal Crown's approach to engagement with First Nations is still proving to be inadequate.

"There is a lot at stake and not just in terms of our national economic agenda," Mr. Eyford said.

Mr. Eyford revealed that Ottawa missed an early opportunity to bring First Nations on board, and only started that outreach in recent months.

"I was struck that some of the communities that are today threatening judicial proceedings and civil disobedience were at one time requesting meetings with federal officials and making what I believe, in retrospect, were feasible proposals to address the environmental and other issues associated with the project. … Regrettably, there was no uptake."

Mr. Eyford speculated that that occurred because Ottawa didn't initially appreciate that laying new pipelines to get more Alberta oil to the B.C. coast wouldn't happen unless First Nations interests were addressed.

Story continues below advertisement

British Columbia is different than the rest of Canada because there are almost no treaties in the province, so the pipeline route must cut across lands that are subject to land claims. That, combined with overlapping claims by a large number number of Indian Act bands, many with small populations and little capacity to evaluate energy projects, creates a complicated route for a proposal such as Northern Gateway.

With the opposition to the transport of heavy oil mounting, the B.C. government is increasingly indifferent to the fate of the Northern Gateway project. B.C. Premier Christy Clark hopes to shield her ambitions for a liquefied natural gas industry, which has moved forward in partnership with aboriginal communities, and says the Enbridge proposal is not close to meeting her conditions.

But Mr. Eyford warned that B.C. could end up damaging its reputation with investors if it cannot win over aboriginal support for resource development. "Opposition to these projects by aboriginal groups may doom the development of oil, and natural gas pipelines and related infrastructure because neither industry nor our trading partners are prepared to idly stand by to wait out the results of judicial proceedings that can take a generation to complete."

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.