Obtaining First Nations' support for resource development was top of the agenda in a federal government announcement made today by Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford in Prince Rupert, B.C.
Rickford said the government will create two groups that Ottawa hopes will speed and ease the approvals of projects such as pipelines and mines.
The first is an Alberta- and B.C.-based bureau of the Major Projects Management Office, called MPMO West. The other is the creation of a "tripartite forum" with representatives from the federal and British Columbia governments and B.C. First Nations.
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"Today we are taking concrete steps as part of our ongoing commitment to meaningful and sustained engagement with First Nations," said Rickford in a statement.
These new organizations were recommended by Douglas Eyford, a special representative on West Coast energy infrastructure named by the federal government after sustained criticism about how it handled natural resources projects.
Eyford released a report last December based on months of consultations with First Nations in B.C. and Alberta. The 53-page report had dozens of recommendations, many of them directed at the urgent need to promote what he called a "principled dialogue’’ about resource development with aboriginal communities in the two provinces.
“It’s never too late to engage and do so in a process of good faith negotiations,’’ Eyford said when his report, Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships, was released.
Co-ordinate work on projects
The Major Projects Management Office was created by the Conservative government in 2007. Its job is to guide companies through the regulatory process and get their resource projects up and running as soon as possible.
The new western office "will serve as a single window for the government of Canada to co-ordinate activities on energy infrastructure development with B.C. First Nations and industry in British Columbia and Alberta," the Department of Natural Resources explained in a statement.
The "tripartite forum" will act as a venue for Ottawa, B.C. and First Nations to discuss common interests when it comes to resource development and figure out a way to get projects off the ground in a way where everyone benefits.
B.C.'s Minister of Aboriginal Relations John Rustad and West Coast First Nations leaders joined Rickford at the announcement.
Garry Reece, mayor of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, called today's news important, and a good step in the relationship between Ottawa and his people.
"Members of our community want to ensure projects are safe for the environment, our marine resources and generate business opportunities and jobs for our members," Reece said.