British Columbia

'Not an option': B.C. premier rejects calls to halt or cancel Coastal GasLink pipeline

John Horgan doubles down on his reasons for not meeting personally with hereditary chiefs, says those are discussions are best handled by Indigenous Relations Ministry.

John Horgan says meeting with hereditary chiefs best handled through cabinet minister

Premier John Horgan addresses reporters at the B.C. Legislature Thursday. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

B.C.'s premier has categorically put to rest any notion of pulling provincial support for the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

"That's not an option, no," John Horgan answered when asked point-blank about calls to halt or cancel the natural gas project altogether.

It was his shortest response during Thursday's press conference at the B.C. Legislature as he took question after question about the ongoing tensions in northwestern B.C. surrounding hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation who oppose construction of a natural gas pipeline to feed a liquefied natural gas plant on the coast. 

He was also asked whether he would change his mind and meet in-person meeting with hereditary chiefs.

"If there was a prospect of a positive outcome, of course," Horgan said. "But the notion that it would just somehow be, 'You have to come and talk to me' without any understanding of what the [end goal] of that discussion would be, I'm not prepared to do that."

He's referring to a political turning point last month. While touring northern B.C., he declined a face-to-face meeting with the hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline that's slated to run through traditional Wet'suwet'en territory.

Chief Na'moks of the Wet'suwet'en Nation says resource companies should consult hereditary leadership when pursuing benefit agreements with Indigenous people in their traditional territories. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

"It really bothered me that he was not that far away and yet somehow could not take the time to come and speak with us," said Chief Na'moks at the time.

"We want to show the respect back, too," Na'moks said. "If you're going to have decent communication with anybody, it's best to be looking eye to eye." 

Horgan's office cited other commitments and instead proposed a phone call that would focus on 'de-escalation and on safety for all.' 

But that never happened, and Horgan is once again doubling-down on his reasons for not going in-person.

"When Na'Moks demanded that I present myself, I said I'd be happy to talk to you on the phone to find out when we can meet — he refused to take the phone call."

I stand ready to work with the hereditary leadership to find a peaceful resolution to this issue.- B.C. Premier John Horgan

Horgan doesn't believe his decision not to meet them first-hand further escalated tensions. He said he's not going to accept responsibility for the decisions the hereditary leaders are making or the positions they're taking.

"I do accept responsibility, as head of the government of B.C., that I stand ready to work with the hereditary leadership to find a peaceful resolution to this issue."

Horgan said he'll continue to focus on what he says is the overwhelming majority of First Nations who do support the pipeline and the economic prosperity that comes with it. 

Coastal GasLink has signed agreements with 20 First Nations along the route of the pipeline including elected band councils of the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

In the meantime, he again suggested communications are best done through the Indigenous Relations Ministry.

"I don't have any more magic in my pocket than [Minister] Scott Fraser does," Horgan said, who added the issue is best discussed at the ministerial level where there are experts who have been working on these issues for decades.