OPINION: The Liberal Party is falling well short of its promises to First Nations

 In the lead-up to the 2015 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in a virtual town hall broadcast on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

The Idle No More movement was in full swing, and Trudeau positioned the Liberal Party as the antidote to the ruling Conservatives, who had sparked the grassroots protest by reducing protections for lakes and rivers.

article continues below

"The only way to build strong economic growth and economic activity is to do so in a way that is respectful of local communities and environmental responsibilities," said Trudeau.

The conversation turned to pipelines, and host Cheryl Mckenzie asked Trudeau if a pipeline project would require the consent of a First Nation to go through its territory.

"Would 'no' mean 'no' under your government?" she asked.

Without hesitation, Trudeau answered in the affirmative: "Absolutely."

I can understand why many Indigenous Canadians took Trudeau at his word, voting for him in record numbers. Trudeau also promised to implement the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, an international standard that requires "free, prior and informed consent" of Indigenous peoples for development projects on their lands.

Yet since taking office, his party has been faced with the reality of balancing competing interests, and they have shown little willingness to follow through on rhetoric when it comes to "nation to nation" relationships with Indigenous groups.

This was laid bare on Thursday Aug. 30, when the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the federal government failed to adequately discharge its duty to consult all Indigenous people affected by the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, effectively halting construction on the multi-billion-dollar project until that work and other environmental concerns are addressed.

With respect to Indigenous groups, justices of the federal court found that meeting notes show "little or no meaningful responses" to concerns raised, and that the duty to consult means more than simply allowing interveners to "blow off steam."

Though the expansion project has received significant First Nations buy-in (over 40 First Nations have signed benefit agreements), the two nations at the end of the line, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish Nation, have vigorously opposed it.

"We don't want to be in court fighting the federal government," said Squamish Nation councillor and spokesperson Khelsilem, following the decision. "We're telling them—let's have a different relationship. But we're not seeing that on the ground yet."

In an incredible twist, the historic court decision came on the same day that Kinder Morgan shareholders approved the sale of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to Canada for $4.5 billion. A deal made to "de-risk" and ensure the project gets built, say government officials.

Despite the debacle (which, as far as I can tell, is the single worst public policy failure in my lifetime), the Liberals say they will get the pipeline built.

During a town hall meeting on the morning the court decision came out, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, said that the expansion project is "key to our economy" and developing a federal climate action plan.

Even with West Vancouver in it, the project appears to be deeply unpopular throughout her riding. The prospect of a nearly seven-fold increase in tanker traffic and the risk of a catastrophic oil spill in English Bay isn't an easy sell.

Yet Goldsmith-Jones—who holds an MBA in Aboriginal Business and Leadership and models herself as a champion of First Nations—found a way to frame the $4.5-billion purchase of the pipeline in a positive light.

"As it stands, the pipeline itself, not the expanded project, is an asset that makes money," she said.

The "bigger challenge" will be to carry out the expansion in an "expeditious" manner.

Goldsmith-Jones did, however, make her opposition to the location of one Sea to Sky energy project known: Woodfibre LNG.

Seen as far less risk than Trans Mountain, it gained the backing of Squamish Nation after passing a comprehensive environmental assesment developed by the nation. A model of self-determination.

"I don't think it's worth it," said Goldsmith-Jones of Woodfibre LNG. "And you can go around asking anyone in Ottawa (because) I go around saying that all the time."

Perhaps, now that the Trans Mountain expansion project appears to be on its deathbed, she might consider delivering another message to her colleagues in Ottawa: that her constituents don't want it—and that it runs counter to their lofty rhetoric around respecting Indigenous rights.


Read Related Topics

@ Copyright Squamish Chief

Weekly POLL

Do you support the proposal for a wilderness lodge on Brohm Ridge?

or  view results

Related story