Carr promises First Nations collaboration on energy development

VANCOUVER – Canada’s natural resources minister is promising a new relationship with First Nations on energy development and indigenous leaders are expressing cautious optimism about the new Liberal government’s tone.

Jim Carr told a forum organized by the Assembly of First Nations on Wednesday that Aboriginal Peoples will be consulted meaningfully on resource projects and decisions will be based on science.

“We’ve opened the door for a new way of doing things, and I want to invite you in,” he told the crowd. “I’m asking you to seize this opportunity, to change the language on resource development, to strive for consensus.”

The forum in Vancouver is bringing together First Nations from across the country to set priorities for working with the energy industry. The visit marked Carr’s first official trip to British Columbia, where he met with provincial cabinet ministers.

Carr said the government wants to collaborate with indigenous communities to develop natural resources based on a low-carbon, sustainable energy economy.

He highlighted the government’s introduction of interim environmental assessment rules for major resource projects, including Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and TransCanada’s Energy East project.

The changes mean the government will do additional indigenous consultation on Trans Mountain after Ottawa receives a recommendation from the National Energy Board in May.

The projects are also to be assessed on greenhouse gas emissions produced in oil extraction and processing.

Carr said he plans to increase indigenous representation on the National Energy Board and look at best practices from around the world as environmental assessment is overhauled.

“We know that there will be no projects approved in Canada under the current regulatory scheme,” he told reporters after the speech.

Carr said the record of pipeline infrastructure development since 2011 has not been a “particularly happy one,” despite supportive governments in Alberta and Ottawa and $100-a-barrel oil during that period.

“They didn’t proceed because they couldn’t carry the confidence of Canadians, and part of the reason was because indigenous people were not meaningfully consulted,” he said.

“They have to be. They will be.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he welcomes public statements that indicate good intentions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

“However, at the end of the day, it’s not so much what governments say, it’s what they do,” he said. “We’ve already seen evidence of where the Trudeau government has taken a shortcut with some cosmetic changes to the National Energy Board review process.”

Additional consultation on Trans Mountain won’t make a difference because the project has already been examined under a “broken” process, Phillip suggested.

Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day said he’s sold on the Liberal government’s message, but he expects it to turn into action.

“I’m skeptical of just talk, so, shortly after this, there’s going to have to be a very clear reciprocation of those commitments from the prime minister directly.”

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Northern Gateway would be covered by new environmental assessment rules.