Reconciliation in the time of pipelines

“This decision was based on science, traditional knowledge of Indigenous peoples and other relevant scientific evidence.” – Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change[1]

On September 27th, the federal government announced it had approved the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (PNWLNG) project in British Columbia. Catherine McKenna pointed to the 190 conditions that govern the project as proof environmental and cultural concerns will be adequately dealt with, despite the fact that this $36 billion mega-project will become the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Canada.[2] In March of this year, over 130 scientists urged McKenna to reject what they called a “scientifically flawed” draft report issued by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).[3] Serious doubt has also been cast on whether the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation actually voted in favour of the project after previously rejecting $1.15 billion over 40 years in exchange for their consent.[4] Nonetheless, McKenna insists that consultation with Indigenous peoples was meaningful – three months was spent “understanding impact on fishery”[5] – and that the project is “consistent with the government’s reconciliation agenda”.[6]

Reconciliation agenda?

In December of 2015, Trudeau promised to implement all 94 calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC), including implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). “We need nothing less than a total renewal of the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples,” he stated, “I give you my word that we will renew and respect that relationship.”[7] Only 7 months later, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould claimed that implementing UNDRIP into Canadian law was “unworkable” and a “political distraction”.[8] This about face is particularly significant, as UNDRIP is touted as the primary vehicle through which the TRC sees reconciliation being undertaken in this country. That vehicle has been abandoned by the side of the road in favour of the equivalent of a Humvee with truck nuts.

So what exactly is the government’s reconciliation agenda that McKenna is referring to? McKenna clarifies this for us in a tweet, stating that, “together”, presumably with Indigenous peoples, “we”, presumably Canadians, “will grow the economy, create good middle class jobs”, and of course “protect the environment for future generations”.[9] The economic focus is clear, stated as an obvious good, while lip service is paid to environmental stewardship. That claim rings particularly hollow when one discovers (as Greg Horne of ricochet media did)[10] that in 1973 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans issued a report on an earlier LNG plant proposal in the same area, finding that it would represent an unacceptable risk it posed to fish habitat.[11]

Next to Lelu Island, which is the proposed site of a gas liquefaction facility, is Flora Bank which will be dredged in order to build a suspension bridge. These shallows are a vital habitat for a variety of fish and shellfish, including juvenile salmon, and is considered to be one of the most biologically significant areas in the Skeena river system, if not in all of British Columbia.[12] Despite vigorous opposition from First Nations in the area, and well documented, scientific concerns that are not adequately met by the 190 conditions attached to approval, it is clear that reconciliation as understood by the federal government is much more about “the economy” than building real relationships with Indigenous peoples. Ultimately, the narrative is going to be that First Nations consent to these projects, no matter how that consent is acquired. Free, prior, and informed consent; arguably the backbone of UNDRIP, has been roughly yanked out and discarded, because when the economy is king, reconciliation itself is just “unworkable” and a “political distraction”.

A version of this article was published by the Ottawa Citizen on Sept. 29, 2016.

[1] “Catherine McKenna on Twitter: ‘This Decision Was Based on Science, Traditional Knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and Other Relevant Scientific Evidence. Https://’” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[2] “Pacific NorthWest LNG, Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Assessment Certificate Application Section 7: Greenhouse Gas Management Microsoft Word – rep_pnwlng_ea_2014_final.docx – 98681E.pdf.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[3] “Scientists Urge Catherine McKenna to Reject Pacific NorthWest LNG Report.” The Globe and Mail. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[4] “Divide and Conquer.” Toward Reconciliation. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[5] “Angela Sterritt on Twitter: ‘McKenna Answering to Indig Ppls Concerns of salmon: ’We Provided Meaningful accommodation.We Took 3 Months to Understand Impact on Fishery.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[6] “Ottawa Approves Pacific NorthWest LNG Project for B.C. Coast.” CBC News. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[7] “Trudeau Promises Full Federal Action on Final TRC Report | National Observer.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[8] “Ottawa Won’t Adopt UNDRIP Directly into Canadian Law: Wilson-Raybould.” iPolitics. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[9] “Catherine McKenna on Twitter: ‘Together We Will Grow the Economy, Create Good Middle Class Jobs and Protect the Environment for Future Generations Https:// Https://’” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[10] “The Stand at Lelu Island: B.C. First Nations Vow to Halt LNG Project.” Ricochet. Accessed September 28, 2016.
[11] “A_biological_Assessment_of_Fish_Utilization_of_the_Skeena_River_Estuary.pdf.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
[12] “Flora Bank Eelgrass Survey.” Accessed September 28, 2016.
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