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Northern Gateway shows new approach needed

By: Jared Milne

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 09, 2014 06:00 am

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Last month, the Northern Gateway pipeline was approved by the Harper government. In response, many First Nations people swore they would never support the pipeline being built through their lands. Many people accused the aboriginals of being greedy and lazy, opposing the pipeline simply to wring more money out of Enbridge. However, as with so much else in Canada, things are more complicated than they first seem.

For centuries, Canadian aboriginals have had decisions about their lives made for them without giving them any say in the matter. Whether it be in government legislation, residential schools, forced relocations or more, these decisions have caused no end of grief for them.

For many aboriginals, Northern Gateway is just another example of the government ignoring their concerns. Tellingly, both former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice and Harper government energy envoy Doug Eyford sharply criticized the Harper government for failing to consult aboriginals affected by major pipeline projects. These men are not known for their ties to the environmental movement, and have been closely connected with Harper, but they are both saying many of the same things as Northern Gateway’s aboriginal opponents.

Many aboriginal people are concerned that their traditional lands will be ruined by potential pipe spills and leaks. This is not a new thing in Canada, either – Quebec’s hydroelectric projects ruined the hunting grounds of many of its Cree peoples in the 1960s. Unfortunately, when they try to raise these concerns they have been viciously attacked by the Harper government and some of its supporters.

This may have backfired, as the president of the Kinder Morgan energy company publicly criticized the government for attacking the pipeline’s critics, which caused problems for his company’s own energy projects.

The government’s approach has alienated many of the people whose support is needed for the energy pipelines to be built. It has also given ammunition to the hardcore environmentalists who want to see the oilsands shut down. This simply isn’t an option – the oil and gas industry is one of our biggest economic engines, including for the aboriginal-owned companies that work in or with the industry. For it to succeed, we need to get our resources to market. The environmental movement has some critical points to make, but the depiction by some hardcore activists of the energy industry as greedy, destructive villains won’t make people more inclined to listen to their message.

The Canada West Foundation has called for a new approach to consulting people affected by energy development, while Preston Manning has said that government could act as a “facilitator” in bringing different groups together. Aboriginal leaders like Georges Erasmus and George Manuel have spoken about the benefits private enterprise can create for aboriginals.

However, none of this will succeed if we keep attacking one another as greedy and selfish, or brazenly ignoring the needs and opinions of people who are going to be affected by resource development. All that does is just make the problem worse.

As Canadians, we can do better than this.

Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.


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