Buying and expanding Trans-Mountain pipeline not a violation of Indigenous rights, says minister
Some Indigenous opponents say opposition to pipeline will grow after federal deal with Kinder Morgan
Ottawa's decision to buy the Trans-Mountain pipeline and push its expansion project forward does not violate its commitment to upholding Indigenous rights or its endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, says the Crown-Indigenous relations minister.
During an appearance before the standing committee on Indigenous and northern affairs on Tuesday, Carolyn Bennett said the pipeline already has the support of 33 First Nations in B.C.
She said Ottawa's backing of UNDRIP, and its key section on needing free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) when infringing on Indigenous land and rights, was not at odds with the pipeline purchase.
"We have been very clear that FPIC is not a veto and consensus does not mean unanimity," said Bennett.
Conservative MP Cathy McLeod also asked Bennett during the committee hearing on what she would do to de-escalate tensions in B.C.
"I think it's very important that people listen to one another," said Bennett.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced Tuesday morning that the federal government would be buying the pipeline for $4.5 billion and taking over the planned expansion from Houston-based firm Kinder Morgan.
Morneau said Ottawa plans to hold onto the assets until it can find investors to buy them back. Morneau said there was some interest from First Nations and pension funds.
Several First Nations in British Columbia are seriously considering buying a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline and its expansion, according to Cheam First Nation Chief Ernie Crey.
Crey said he was pleased to hear that Ottawa was buying the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and taking over the project to nearly triple its capacity to carry Alberta-mined bitumen to the West Coast for shipping to world markets. Cheam First Nation is about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver.
"I was happy to get up this morning to hear this news," said Crey.
"It means a lot not only to my community, but also the other 42 First Nations directly on the pipeline route whose daily lives, their jobs, are affected by the pipeline."
Crey said he has already spoken to his council about the possibility of partnering with investors to buy a stake in the project.
"In principle, we would be willing to invest," said Crey.
Cheam is one of 43 First Nations, including 33 in B.C., that had previously signed agreements with Kinder Morgan on the pipeline project.
Crey said several other First Nations that have signed agreements with Kinder Morgan are also considering that option.
The Trans Mountain expansion project would nearly triple the existing 1,500-kilometre pipeline's capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day from 300,000.
The pipeline would pump bitumen mined in Alberta from its Sherwood Park terminal to tankers docking at the expanded Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C., which would get three new berths.
Lower Nicola Chief Aaron Sumexheltza, whose community had a conditional agreement with Kinder Morgan on the pipeline expansion project, said his council has to examine the implications of Ottawa's move.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions in terms of negotiations moving forward," said Sumexheltza.
"We need to do an assessment of the current situation, and we are going to have some discussions internally."
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion crosses Lower Nicola's reserve lands.
No change in opposition
Rueben George, manager of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative, said the change in ownership doesn't change his community's opposition to the pipeline expansion project.
The Westridge Marine Terminal sits directly across the Burrard Inlet from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and is within the community's consultation boundary.
"Canada made a mistake with Kinder Morgan," said George. "They are trying to save face. They are screwed no matter what, so why not just take it over?"
Tsleil-Waututh is one of seven First Nations, along with the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver and two environmental groups, that have gone to the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn Ottawa's approval of the pipeline expansion project.
"I am really comfortable with the Canadian Constitution protecting our Indigenous rights," said George. "This doesn't change anything."
The Squamish Nation issued a statement calling Ottawa's move a "betrayal" by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"He told Canada's Indigenous people that our rights would be respected and upheld. He has broken that promise," said Khelsilem, an elected councillor and spokesperson for Squamish Nation, in a statement.
"The Squamish Nation will continue to fight to protect our inlet, our communities and our economy."
The First Nation's traditional territory includes the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby and stretches to Whistler, B.C.
Kanahus Manuel, a prominent grassroots leader and a member of the Secwepemc Women Warrior Society, said Ottawa's decision to take over the pipeline will animate Indigenous opposition.
"All this word play about reconciliation is thrown out the door and spit on and stepped on," said Manuel. "All it is going to do is push us further, harder and stronger to stop this pipeline from going through."
The pipeline crosses about 500 kilometres of Secwepemc traditional territory.
A call for dialogue
Manuel said a move by some First Nations to buy a stake in the project won't slow grassroots opposition.
"We already know the ones who will be selling out on the pipeline," she said.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said Ottawa now needs to sit down with First Nations in B.C., who have different positions on the project, to find a solution.
"The onus is on the Crown to honour this duty to consult, and that has not yet happened," said Bellegarde, in a statement.
"First Nations have for centuries used our own protocols and traditional ways to solve problems and broker solutions where we are on different sides of an issue."