Meaningfulness of Trans Mountain pipeline consultations questioned by First Nations chief

Questions have been raised by some local First Nations as to whether the new federal panel is really doing any better at offering meaningful consultation, especially given the two-month time frame.

Cheam First Nation chief says he wasn't given enough notice to properly prepare for the roundtable discussion

The three-person federal panel tasked with consulting communities and First Nations along the Trans Mountain Pipeline route is holding meetings in Chilliwack today, as part of an attempt to rebuild public trust in the federal review process. (Trans Mountain)

A federal panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion is holding public consultations in Chilliwack Thursday, as part of an attempt to rebuild public trust in the federal review process.

The controversial project was approved in May with 157 conditions to be met before moving forward, and the three-person panel will be consulting communities and First Nations along the route of the pipeline.

Questions have been raised by some local First Nations as to whether the new federal panel is really doing any better at offering meaningful consultation, especially given the two-month time frame.

Cheam First Nation Chief  Ernie Crey says he was emailed an invitation to the event 10 days ago and feels that he was not given enough notice or information to properly prepare.

"I just don't see how this panel could show up in Chilliwack, having given the First Nations eight or nine days notice to exercise or discharge this responsibility of consulting thoroughly, broadly and in a meaningful fashion," said Crey.

"It has to be more than a part of an afternoon with muffins and coffee. Are you, or are you not sending information about your mandate as a panel. What are you expectations? They didn't communicate those things to me."

Defining the review process

In response to this criticism, Kim Baird, one of the three ministerial panel members consulting communities, says the purpose of the panel needs to be made clear to the public to avoid this kind of conflict. Acknowledging that the invitation sent to Crey was given with short notice, she defended the panel's purpose by saying the process is only to collect information, not to make decisions.

"I do need to stress that this isn't Crown consultation that is going on between the federal government and First Nations. Our panel's role is to talk about the omissions from the current environmental assessment process," said Baird.

"We're not talking about accommodating First Nations rights and title or any of those things, rather hearing concerns about any oversights in the process from the public perspective and from First Nations perspective as well."

The panel has met with communities in Calgary, Edmonton, Jasper and Kamloops so far and have had varying levels of attendance, but Baird says each consultation has provided valuable and specific feedback from citizens invested in this issue.

"The oil and gas industry in Canada as a whole is starting to think about how to transition to a low carbon economy and how long that transition might take. The federal government is reviewing their overall environmental assessment process. Until those changes happen, this panel is an interim measure to try and gauge public concern about the existing process," she said.

"It's a fairly specific task. We're not completing an environmental assessment. We're canvassing process concerns which is fairly specific and, I think, achievable in a short period of time."

Following today's roundtable discussion, the panel will move on to hold meetings in Abbotsford and Langley next week.