Harper's "Hail Mary"

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the decision to appoint Jim Prentice to sell Northern Gateway to BC First Nations is too little too late.

Photo of BC Grand Chief Phillip Stewart by David P. Ball

In what the grand chief of British Columbia is calling a “Hail Mary” on the part of the Harper government, Enbridge and its partners have selected former Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice to resuscitate stalled negotiations with First Nations in BC over the Northern Gateway pipeline.

In a statement released earlier today, Prentice, former Minister of Indian Affairs Northern Development, said he believes First Nations should be “full partners” in resource development.

“This project can bring jobs, economic opportunity, community development and educational opportunities to First Nation Canadians. This can be achieved while protecting the environment and respecting First Nation's environmental priorities. I have repeatedly said that the Northern Gateway project represents an opportunity for Aboriginal Peoples and the country.”

Steve Williams, CEO of Enbridge’s partner Suncor, said the companies are “keen to listen and open up further dialogue with Aboriginal communities.”

But Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, head of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), isn’t buying it.

“I’m not the least bit impressed that the Harper government has appointed Jim Prentice to this file,” he said, adding that the attempt to reach out to BC First Nations now is too little too late.

“If they would have been sincere in engaging in dialogue, that should have happened several years ago when this project was at its earliest stages of conception. And of course, the Harper government did not do that, rather they were very arrogant and just proceeded with their plans, completely ignored and dismissed Aboriginal title and rights issues of First Nations people, completely dismissed the concerns of the environmental movement.” First Nations and those working in the environmental movement have been engaged on this issue for years, but have been constantly vilified by the federal government, he added.

As for the feasibility of Enbridge’s goal of “resuscitating” negotiations, Phillip is skeptical.

 “I think they collapse long ago,” he said. “My point is that I don’t think this grandiose announcement, Mr. Prentice being appointed, is going to have any dramatic impact on changing the perspective of First Nation leaders along the pipeline route or along the coast.”

It’s not the first instance of Prentice “cheerleading” for the oil and gas industry, Phillip added, recalling Prentice’s speech at last summer’s Assembly of First Nations General Assembly in Whitehorse in which he focused on economic development instead of issues more pressing to the delegates, such as health and safety and Aboriginal rights and title.

“I think Enbridge has pretty much exhausted any notion of credibility with the general public, and certainly with First Nations,” he said. “I think as we move forward down this path, at some point in time Enbridge will feel the full weight of their litany of shortcomings and failures.”

Phillip has been bedridden since mid-February, following a car accident, and said he’s looking at about a 12-week window to healing.  “I’m still on the right side of the grass, so that’s the main thing.”

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