It was ironic that Stephen Harper and his minions arrived on B.C. soil last week just a couple days before the start of Reconciliation Week, a nationwide initiative that, according to its website, aims “to promote reconciliation by engaging Canadians in dialogue that revitalizes the relationships between Aboriginal people and all Canadians in order to build resilience.”
The irony, of course, lies in the fact that the Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers were here to sell First Nations leaders the modern-day equivalent of a few trinkets in exchange for their agreement not to block a pair of tar-sands-carrying pipelines across B.C. that the federal government clearly wants to see built — and some three-fourths of B.C. residents (in the case of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway) do not.
For the past 18 months, as a Joint Review Panel conducted hearings into the Enbridge pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen across the heart of B.C. to the northwest coast, Harper’s ministers have made it clear they support the project — while giving lip service to the notion that the panel has to base its decision on “science.” That is to say, the sort of science that concludes the risk of significant damage to land and seascapes from a major spill is minimal if we have “world-leading” pipeline and tanker safety standards; not the sort of science that reaches any other conclusion.
With the panel set to announce its decision by year end, Mr. Harper must know that whatever the verdict, it’s unlikely to magically change people’s minds in B.C. He also knows that to have any chance of seeing the project built, he must not only consult with B.C. First Nations — whose right to be consulted on decisions affecting their traditional territory has been repeatedly upheld by the courts — but consult them “meaningfully.”
What does “meaningfully” mean? That the government can say “yes” even if First Nations say “no, no, no,” as long as native leaders have been offered the chance to change their minds? Well, if that’s the direction this thing goes, we suspect that would be up to the courts to decide.
If this writer has correctly read the intentions expressed by B.C. First Nations leaders to date, we’d say the only chances for a reconciliation at this stage are slim and none.
— David Burke