New Brunswick

Mi'kmaq chief says Higgs falling short on shale gas consultations with Indigenous groups

Premier Blaine Higgs says he's talking to First Nations about a possible revival of shale gas development in New Brunswick, but one Mi'kmaq chief suggests the province is already falling short on its duty to consult Indigenous people.

Premier says he's had 'preliminary discussions' with First Nations

a man stands at a podium
Premier Blaine Higgs has been talking about a renewed push for shale gas in New Brunswick since the war in Ukraine began. (Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press)

Premier Blaine Higgs says he's talking to First Nations about a possible revival of shale gas development in New Brunswick, but one Mi'kmaq chief suggests the province is already falling short on its duty to consult Indigenous people.

Natoaganeg First Nation Chief George Ginnish, who co-chairs the Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc. group representing Mi'kmaq communities, first learned of Higgs's outreach in a news report in May.

"The first I would have seen of that myself would have been in the media, so I'm not sure exactly where that is," he told CBC News Wednesday.

"If you're going to float things like this, you really need to be talking directly to our consultation group so that that discussion begins to happen the way it needs to, and not in the media."

Natoaganeg First Nation Chief George Ginnish says he first learned of the premier's outreach in a news report. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Higgs raised the issue with chiefs in a recent meeting and was told that consultation on the projects was necessary and early engagement is always best, Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn spokesperson Jennifer Coleman said.

Ginnish said it's important that Indigenous people not remain "afterthoughts." 

"You bring us in partway through discussion and it's really hard to be able to impact that. Decisions are already made. That's troublesome." 

Renewed push for shale gas

Higgs has been talking about a renewed push for shale gas since the war in Ukraine began and Europe found its normal supply of Russian natural gas constrained by international sanctions.

He's been cheerleading a possible addition to the Saint John LNG import terminal that would allow the export of natural gas to Europe.

Higgs repeated Wednesday that although the plant could export gas shipped by pipeline from the United States, it would help the project's business case if there were New Brunswick natural gas available as well.

He said he had "preliminary discussions" with First Nations.

Converting the Saint John terminal is "something that could meet the timeline of meeting demands and concerns in Europe, maybe in the order of three years or so, but the idea is that we need all hands on deck to make it happen.

"Obviously that includes First Nations, but it [also] includes developers, and it includes policies that work for people to invest."

Events of 2013 still fresh

In 2019 Higgs complained that the duty to consult Indigenous people, a requirement set out in a series of Supreme Court of Canada rulings, was too vague.

"It's not well-defined, so you don't know when you're done and the timelines to achieve it," he said at the time.

Earlier this month the premier said he did not want to relive the violent confrontations between police and anti-fracking protestors near Elsipogtog First Nation in 2013.

"I don't want to go through any of that," he said.

Ginnish said Wednesday the events of 2013 are still fresh in everyone's mind. 

Chief George Ginnish says 2013 shale gas protests like this one are still fresh in everyone's mind. (Jen Choi/CBC)

"The consultation didn't happen the way it should have," he said.

The province is already falling short again, the chief added, by beefing up staff at its Aborignal Affairs secretariat— something that risks slowing down the process by involving more people and more departments.

"We've told them, really, that's not going to help … There are resources there that could be used to support important consultations on high-order projects that would make more sense to us," Ginnish said.

"We have a consultation protocol that we've asked the province to look at, so we're at odds about how this needs to happen right now. They have their way, and we have our protocol, and right now they're not lining up." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacques Poitras

Provincial Affairs reporter

Jacques Poitras has been CBC's provincial affairs reporter in New Brunswick since 2000. He grew up in Moncton and covered Parliament in Ottawa for the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. He has reported on every New Brunswick election since 1995 and won awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Newspaper Awards and Amnesty International. He is also the author of five non-fiction books about New Brunswick politics and history.

now