Phil Fontaine

Former Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine says he is looking forward to bringing a "business approach" to dealings with New Brunswick First Nations as the newest member of the NB Power board of directors. (CBC)

Phil Fontaine, a well known Manitoba First Nations Leader who was appointed to NB Power's board of directors this month, says he sees his new role as an opportunity to focus on economic development for First Nations when it comes to natural resources.

He said he was chosen for the job, in large part, because of his experience as a former Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations as well as his strong interest in resource development.

Fontaine said the work of NB Power will impact First Nations and so their interests must be considered. 

'There's a realization that it makes far better business sense to engage more willingly and more openly with First Nations communities and so the challenge, quite often, is really how to do it effectively and in a business-like way.'- Phil Fontaine

"The possibility of creating real opportunities and true realization of the enormous potential so that First Nations could, in fact, turn the corner with respect to the difficult circumstances that too many First Nation communities face," he said.

Fontaine doesn't see himself playing the role of liaison between NB Power and First Nations. However, he does hope to bring more transparency to resource development projects. 

"There's a realization that it makes far better business sense to engage more willingly and more openly with First Nations communities and so the challenge, quite often, is really how to do it effectively and in a business-like way." said Fontaine.

"So I hope I'll be able to lend my experience in ensuring that we can proceed effectively, efficiently, and of course positively for all New Brunswick people."

Fontaine said he was approached to take on his new role with New Brunswick's utility "some time ago" by former Liberal cabinet minister Andy Scott, who died in June at the age of 58.

He said Scott was good friends with the chair of NB Power's board of directors Ed Barrett and asked if he would be interested.

"We are fortunate to have Fontaine joining the board," Barrett said in a statement when he announced the appointment.

"His proven expertise in bringing people together and opening the lines of communication, coupled with his extraordinary ability to speak from the heart and teach others how to achieve results, is an asset to our company."

Fontaine won't comment on Rexton blockade

The ongoing blockade of Route 134 continues as shale gas protesters, including members of the Elsipogtog First Nation, stop SWN Resources Canada from moving its equipment to explore for natural gas.

Fontaine said he won't comment on that situation, but he does believe the friction proves his belief that First Nations people must be included in negotiations around resource development.

"It's far better if you have the full engagement and participation and support of the First Nations communities and this is true in New Brunswick."

He said, in many cases, engaging with First Nations on resource development is a new challenge.

"It's incumbent upon all of the various interests to work together to figure out how best to proceed," he said. "And so what will occur from time to time, and this is really from past experiences, is an unwillingness to trust that development is really in the best interest of all," said Fontaine.

"We really have to figure out how to do this right."