OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper has named an envoy to deal with aboriginal opposition to resource development in Alberta and British Columbia.
Doug Eyford will be working with aboriginal communities to address concerns about environmental impact, job creation and the sharing of economic benefits.
“It is essential that we work closely with First Nations communities, in order to incorporate their knowledge and experience,” Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said, according to a text of a speech made in Terrace, B.C., about the announcement.
“This truth exists independently of the Crown’s constitutional duty to consult on individual projects.”
Eyford is a Vancouver lawyer with a long history of working for the federal government as a negotiator on First Nations issues.
He will report directly to Harper, producing a preliminary report by the end of June and a final report by the end of November.
Eyford’s job is to hear aboriginal concerns about proposed pipelines, liquid natural gas plants, marine terminals and other energy infrastructure in B.C. and Alberta.
“The representative’s report will not replace negotiations between aboriginal communities and industry on specific projects, and is not intended to. It is meant to encourage and stimulate those discussions,” Oliver said.
“This will not be dialogue for dialogue’s sake, but dialogue in search of solutions. We don’t want another process. We want a product.”
It’s the first concrete step to come from a crisis meeting between Harper and leading chiefs in the midst of widespread protests in January.
The prime minister promised to empower top officials to deal with First Nations complaints about rights, treaties and the sharing of Canada’s natural resource wealth.
The Assembly of First Nations had long complained that a new process set out in January 2012 was going nowhere because the federal government was not consulting First Nations people nor had it given its bureaucrats a clear mandate.
Unrest boiled over in December, with a protesting Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence and demonstrators in the Idle-No-More movement demanding more government consultation and a larger role for First Nations and environmental protection in the government’s resource development agenda.
Meanwhile, some First Nations have abandoned federal hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oilsands to the West Coast, saying they can no longer afford to participate.
And British Columbia has not yet sanctioned the project.
While many in Ottawa believe the Gateway project is dead, Alberta Premier Alison Redford told The Canadian Press she believes the pipeline will eventually be approved.
However, she stressed that regulatory approval alone is not enough.
“I think there is a lot of work to be done with respect to First Nations, to ensuring that there’s economic benefit for communities right through,” she said in an interview.
“I think it would be wrong to think (Northern Gateway) has gone off the books and shouldn’t happen or won’t happen.
“But I do think that everyone is realizing that as the date of that decision gets closer, that there’s a great risk that it could not happen, and they’re now understanding what the consequences could be.”