The Ralph Klein government could do with a few lessons from oil and gas companies about how to develop good relations with aboriginal people.
The government’s solution to a nasty dispute between First Nations and oilfield contractors in the Slave Lake area in northern Alberta was to spend $6 million and hire a Calgary lawyer to draw up a strategy.
The result, not surprisingly, is a new law. Bill 49 gives police the power to dismantle blockades and arrest anyone who tries to obstruct a company from working on provincial Crown lands. Treaty 8 First Nations consider many of these same lands to be their traditional hunting, fishing and trapping territory.
So did the government consult with aboriginal leaders before bulldozing ahead with the lawyer’s recommendations? No. The strategy was already a fait accompli when presented to Treaty 8 chiefs.
I’m not condoning blockades on public land. But such tactics, as Canadians have seen with the Lubicon Lake Cree in northern Alberta and with the Mohawk at Oka, Que., are usually a last resort of people who’ve tried, repeatedly but unsuccessfully, to get governments and the courts to respect their aboriginal rights.
The government failed its aboriginal constituency by not bringing native leaders to the table. In doing so, it lit the fuse on an already volatile situation.
FIRST NATION FOUNDATION
Contrast the Alberta government’s tactless approach to aboriginal relations with that of Ensign Drilling Inc. and EnCana Corp. in British Columbia.
The two companies signed a historic agreement last week with the Fort Nelson First Nation, whereby the aboriginal community becomes the first in B.C. to own and operate an oil-and-gas drilling rig. The partnership gives the band a 50- per-cent interest in an $8-million rig.
EnCana has agreed to utilize the Eht’oni rig as much as possible. By the way, the rig was named Eht’oni (Eh-toe-nay, which means ‘arrow’ in Dene) by students at the Fort Nelson First Nation’s Chalo School.
Other companies, including Akita Drilling, Shell Canada, TransCanada, Pembina Pipeline, Syncrude and Suncor, also know the value of partnering with and purchasing goods and services from First Nations.
Liz Logan, chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation, says the Eht’oni rig “represents the building of a foundation for us, a foundation for future opportunities and benefits for our community.”
Premier Klein is an honorary Kainai chief of the Blood tribe in southern Alberta. But there’s a lot more to being a chief than the headdress.
CHRETIEN CALLED INTO ACCOUNT
Jean Chretien scolded African leaders on democracy and human rights at the Commonwealth meeting in Nigeria last week.
At the same time, a judge in Alberta decided that the outgoing prime minister can be called to court on a case about native rights over oil and gas.
Federal Court of Canada Justice Max Teitelbaum ruled that the Samson Cree First Nation in Hobbema north of Red Deer should be permitted to call Chretien as a witness in its $1.4-billion lawsuit against the federal government.
The Samson band alleges that Ottawa mishandled oil and gas royalties over the past six decades and deprived the band of higher interest returns. The feds say they adhered to the law and deny the allegations of breach of trust.
The judge ruled that Chretien’s role in government, especially as a former Indian Affairs minister and justice minister, makes his testimony relevant.
Lawyer James O’Reilly, who represents the Samson band and who’s as adept at generating headlines as he is at arguing constitutional law, didn’t know when he would subpoena Chretien to testify.
And what are the chances that the “little guy from Shawinigan” will actually show up in person in court?
About the same odds that Lt.-Col. George Armstrong Custer had of surviving the battle of the Little Bighorn.
RUST NEVER SLEEPS
Talk about bad timing!
TransCanada Pipelines Ltd. had two ruptures and fires within 12 hours and 30 kilometres of each other on its Alberta system natural gas pipeline, about 100 km southeast of Grande Prairie.
Worse yet, the pipeline breaks come just a week after a report raised concerns that Canada – unlike the U.S. – doesn’t have any standards that qualify the competency of pipeline operators, or what constitutes an operator who is properly trained.
Calgary corrosion engineer Patrick Teevens, president of Broadsword Corrosion Engineering Ltd., said a lack of competency standards for pipeline operating personnel, coupled with the number and length of pipelines in Alberta’s aging network, makes a “Priority 1” release due to corrosion inevitable. Priority 1 releases pose a threat to the public and the environment.
Guess what the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board suspects is the likely cause of TransCanada’s two pipeline explosions, which fortunately didn’t hurt anyone? That’s right – corrosion.
In the U.S., decision-making interstate pipeline operators must be experienced and certified. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association both argue that Canada’s “goals-oriented” regulatory approach, which puts responsibility for pipeline safety on the company, is more cost-efficient than the U.S.’s more prescriptive approach.
But say you were a landowner living near an aging pipeline. Wouldn’t you sleep better at night knowing that the person operating that line at least had a piece of paper saying he or she was properly trained to do so?
The fate of EnCana Corp.’s Deep Panuke natural gas project offshore Nova Scotia will depend as much on a flow of federal and provincial ollars as it does on a trickle of well-drilling results.
EnCana said last week it’s pursuing a smaller version of the original $1.3-billion Deep Panuke project, after getting “encouraging” results from its wholly owned Margaree well and jointly owned MarCoh well 250 kilometres southeast of Halifax.
The company stopped short of giving the project the go-ahead, saying that it expects federal and provincial regulators to streamline their regulatory reviews.
But it will take much more than two exploratory wells and cutting some regulatory red tape for Deep Panuke to become Real-Thing Panuke.
EnCana will be looking for royalty concessions from the federal and Nova Scotia governments, as well as tax breaks on rigs brought from outside Canada.
In the end, Ottawa and Halifax will acquiesce. That’s because, with Sable Island remaining the only producing project and exploration efforts to find new ones coming up dry, the Nova Scotia government needs Deep Panuke even more than EnCana does.