Politics

No guarantee all Indigenous concerns about Trans Mountain will be addressed, minister says

The Trudeau government has repeatedly voiced a commitment to respecting First Nations' interests in the push to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built — but that doesn't mean saying yes to every request from Indigenous communities, says Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

In the end, he said, it's about satisfying the court - not pleasing everyone

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says it may not be possible to satisfy all First Nations concerns regarding the Trans Mountain pipeline. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The Trudeau government has said more than once it's committed to respecting First Nations' interests in the push to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built — but that doesn't mean saying yes to every request from Indigenous communities, says Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal dealt another crippling blow to the project, revoking the construction permits after citing concerns about inadequate consultations with First Nations and the impact on the marine environment.

On Friday, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said the National Energy Board will have 22 weeks to report back to government on the project's potential marine impact.

'Unanimity' not required

But the government still hasn't said in detail how it plans to satisfy the court's demand for more robust consultation with First Nations.

Wilkinson said not every demand from Indigenous communities will necessarily be met.

"It certainly doesn't necessarily mean they get everything they want," he told CBC Radio's The House.

He added that the only player that needs to be fully satisfied is the court.

"At the end of the day, it's not … in the context of needing unanimity to proceed."

Wilkinson said Ottawa will do its best to be clear with Indigenous communities: if the federal government can't address their concerns, it will have to explain why.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Edmonton on Wednesday 2:49

'Duty to consult' is a phrase that originates with Section 35 of the Constitution, which recognizes Aboriginal and treaty rights. Courts are often left to decide under what circumstances the government can make a decision that infringes on Indigenous rights.

The Federal Court of Appeal acknowledged the government did fulfil some of its consultation obligations but ruled that "Canada's efforts fell well short of the mark set by the Supreme Court of Canada."

Wilkinson acknowledged his government has work to do.

"What the court found with respect to Indigenous consultations is that the process itself was appropriate, but that the government did not substantively enough listen to the concerns that were raised, and did not respond as effectively as the court determined we should have," he said.

Wilkinson said the priority now is to ensure the court is satisfied.

As the government searches for solutions, the opposition parties are already taking aim at the Liberals' proposal.

"Today, there are no timelines for shovels in the ground," Conservative natural resources critic Shannon Stubbs said Friday. "There is no timeline for completion, no timeline for jobs."

NDP MP Nathan Cullen said it's too late to make up lost ground on Indigenous consultation.

"You can't have meaningful consultations if you've already made up your minds," he said.

"For them to go to Indigenous leaders in B.C. and say, 'We'd now like your opinion' is the opposite of meaningful. It's tokenism, it's paternalistic."

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