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Transcript of a Speech by
The Honourable Joe Oliver
Minister of Natural Resources
At the Announcement of
The Special Representative
on West Coast Energy Infrastructure
March 19, 2013
Good morning everyone. Thank you for attending this historic announcement. Thank you for welcoming us to the traditional territory of the Tsimshian. I also of course want to thank Dr. Denise Henning, the President, as you know, of course, of Northwest Community College. The college is performing an extremely important task, training students to meet the large and growing demand for skills trades in the resource sector and of course educating students in other areas as well.
We have an unfortunate kind of a paradox in this country. We have unemployment rates which are better than in most countries but still higher than we’d like, and that includes higher unemployment among youth. On the other hand, we have a large and looming labour shortage in the skilled trades area. This college is performing a really important function in matching the two so that we don’t have to bring in foreign workers. We look first to Canadians, which is obviously our priority.
I also want to thank Brian Badge [Trades Chair of Northwest Community College] for showing me around and giving me a sense of what is happening in the college. I also want to acknowledge Doug Eyford, whom I’ll introduce in a few moments. I want to recognize the presence of Chief Don Roberts, the Chief of the Kitsumkalum First Nation. As was mentioned before by Glen Bennett [former Chief of Kitselas First Nation], Chief Judy Gerow [Chief Councillor of Kitselas First Nation] couldn’t join us because she’s on a well-deserved vacation with her children. I’m pleased to see so many others from the Kitselas community.
The opportunities presented by Canada’s natural resources are really exciting. Over the next decade, current and planned major resource projects are worth $650 billion, and almost $100 billion of those capital investments will occur right here in British Columbia. These investments will support hundreds of thousands of jobs for middle-class families in every part of the economy and every region of the province.
It’s no exaggeration to predict that the responsible development of Canada’s natural resources can lead us to future prosperity for generations to come. As we follow Responsible Resource Development on the path to prosperity, we must be mindful of three principles that I mentioned when I spoke to the Business Council of British Columbia in November.
First, that prosperity must be an inclusive prosperity: a prosperity that includes all and which all feel included. Second, our well-being involves not just economic prosperity but environmental prosperity. And third, the pursuit of prosperity must always respect our constitutional responsibility to Aboriginal peoples. These principles are the foundation of today’s announcement.
First, inclusive prosperity. We must forge a prosperity in which all Canadians share, a prosperity that touches every community: urban, suburban, rural and remote. A prosperity that includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis. As the Prime Minister told the Crown–First Nations Gathering last year, “our goal is much-increased Aboriginal participation in the economy and in the country’s prosperity.”
The idea that Responsible Resource Development is the key to Aboriginal prosperity is not new. After all, resource-based prosperity predated European settlement. For example, the Tsimshian peoples of the Pacific Coast built an entrepreneurial and trading community on resources. Their business and trading acumen led European traders to dub them “the Phoenicians of the northwest coast.”
That tradition continues. Kitselas Forest Products Limited has been contracted to clear the right of way for a portion of the Pacific Trails Pipeline, generating jobs and revenue for this community. Increasingly, we see modern examples of resource-based prosperity in Aboriginal communities. Take the Haisla First Nation, partner in the massive BC liquefied natural gas project that, for decades, will deliver training, employment and economic and social benefits to that community.
Today, resources support 32,000 Aboriginal jobs. The natural resource industry is already the largest employer of Aboriginal peoples in Canada. This employment is bound to increase. A vibrant, growing economy requires a skilled, growing labour force. And there’s no faster growing labour force than the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities — communities full of eager and promising young people who are poised to capitalize on the jobs, opportunities and prosperity that flow from Responsible Resource Development. We want First Nations, Inuit and Métis to share in the jobs, in the economic growth and the prosperity reaped from Responsible Resource Development.
Second, environmental prosperity. Responsible Resource Development is founded on the certain knowledge that we must achieve and maintain both economic prosperity and environmental prosperity. Our Government will not proceed with any resource project — no development, period — unless it is safe for the environment and safe for Canadians. When it comes to entrepreneurial stewardship, Aboriginal Canadians are recognized leaders.
As the Assembly of First Nations explains, “Indigenous peoples are caretakers of Mother Earth and realize and respect her gifts.” In this community and this province, the beauty of the mountains, the coast and rivers is stunning. We recognize that the First Nations peoples who live here cherish this beauty and have been instrumental in ensuring that resources are developed in a way that conserves the natural environment.
Our Government not only honours this commitment — we share it. Canadians all across the country are proud of the natural beauty of Canada. Whether they recognize a Creator, or Mother Earth, or hold to other beliefs, Canadians demand that governments be responsible stewards of the environment. This sentiment was voiced strongly by Aboriginal leaders with whom I’ve had the opportunity to share ideas about resource development. Together, with collective effort, we can ensure that the best kinds of knowledge and the strongest commitment possible are applied to the creation of environmental prosperity.
This leads directly to the third principle: our constitutional responsibility to Aboriginal peoples. The Government of Canada has a legal duty to consult when it contemplates conduct that might impact an Aboriginal group’s potential or established Aboriginal or Treaty rights. The law is important, but so is the recognition that, as the original inhabitants of Canada, Aboriginal peoples also possess more. They offer us millennia of traditional knowledge about the land.
As the BC First Nations leadership has observed, this accumulated traditional knowledge can contribute to a greater understanding of environmental impacts; to the identification of remedial measures; and to the better and more sustainable use of our resources. It is essential that we work closely with First Nations communities to incorporate their knowledge and their experience. This truth exists independently of the Crown’s constitutional duty to consult on individual projects, which we also uphold and which today’s announcement is not intended to affect or replace. In fact, today’s announcement complements the Crown’s legal obligation.
In recognition of these three principles of Responsible Resource Development, I’m pleased to announce that the Prime Minister has appointed a Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy Infrastructure. The Representative will engage with Aboriginal communities affected by proposed pipelines, liquefied natural gas plants, marine terminals and related energy infrastructure in British Columbia and Alberta.
The Special Federal Representative will work with Aboriginal communities in this province and Alberta to address environmental impacts; to strengthen environmental protection; to create more business and job opportunities for Aboriginal British Columbians and Albertans; to think boldly and creatively about the types of economic benefits that can flow from resource projects; and to ensure that all communities share in the increased prosperity.
He will, of course, engage the provincial governments of British Columbia and Alberta, our continuing partners in Responsible Resource Development. The Representative’s report will not replace negotiations between Aboriginal communities and industries on specific projects, and it is not intended to. It is meant to encourage and stimulate those discussions. This will not be a dialogue for dialogue’s sake but a dialogue in search of solutions. We don’t want another process. We want a product — a meaningful, tangible, purposive product comprising meaningful, tangible, purposive recommendations.
The Special Representative will report directly to the Prime Minister and on an expedited timetable, with a preliminary report by June 28 and a final report by November 29. To fill this historic role, at this seminal moment, I can think of no one more qualified than Doug Eyford.
He is a seasoned, sensitive, straightforward mediator and negotiator with a keen understanding of Aboriginal communities. His vision, professionalism and sense of balance and fairness will, once again, deliver results for First Nations and all British Columbians.
I call this a seminal moment because we stand at a point of unparalleled opportunity. Natural resources already account for one-fifth of the economic activity in Canada. And here in British Columbia, resource industries provide direct employment for more than 100,000 people and support 80 percent of the province’s exports.
The opportunity to increase that prosperity and to secure it for future generations has never been greater. As demonstrated by today’s announcement, we will work with Aboriginal communities to secure that prosperity in an inclusive, environmentally responsible manner.
Thank you very much.
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