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Notes for Remarks


The Honourable Joe Oliver, P.C., M.P.

Minister of Natural Resources

to the

First Nations and B.C. LNG and Energy Opportunities Conference

October 9, 20123
Prince George, British Columbia

Check against delivery

Thank you very much, Chief Miles, Hereditary Chiefs, elders, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure for me to be here, and I thank Chief Teegee and all the members of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council for inviting me to be part of this impressive gathering of First Nations leaders.

I want to give thanks to the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation on whose traditional territory we are conducting business today. The confluence of these two great rivers, the Nechako and Fraser, has been the location of many important discussions in the history of First Nations.

I understand that Chief Teegee has been working tirelessly to pull together this conference, and the First Nations Leadership Council and the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council played a pivotal role, so congratulations to everyone involved.

I also want to acknowledge Grand Chief Edward John, Grand Chief Stewart Philip, Regional Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould and many other chiefs and hereditary chiefs.

I also have the pleasure of recognizing my colleague Bob Zimmer, the Member of Parliament for Prince George–Peace River. And also in the spirit of collegiality, if not reconciliation, I want to recognize Nathan Cullen, Member of Parliament for Skeena–Bulkley Valley. As well the Honourable John Rustad of British Columbia.

And finally, it is my great pleasure to recognize His Excellency Norihiro Okuda, Ambassador of Japan, whose welcome presence is a testament to the friendship between our two countries and the importance of Canada’s natural gas industry.

Our great country and all the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people across Canada stand at a pivotal moment in our economic history. Global economic forces are undergoing a fundamental shift, and energy, including liquefied natural gas, is a critical part of that transformation. We are confronted with daunting challenges and an extraordinary opportunity to responsibly and safely translate Canada’s abundant natural resources into an era of sustainable prosperity and security and a brighter and more promising future for our children and our grandchildren.

The magnitude of the opportunity was summed up by National Chief Shawn Atleo two weeks ago, and I quote: “Economic development is one key to unleashing the full potential of First Nations citizens and communities in a way that benefits the country as a whole.” He also noted that building trust is the single most important ingredient for success in realizing these opportunities. He said: “With trust, we can advance to removing fear, create momentum, and we can generate hope.”

Well, I’m here to do my part to help build that trust. An important step was the historic Crown–First Nations meeting with the Prime Minister, the National Chief and many First Nations chiefs from across the country. While this was an important first step, I understand there are no easy solutions to the challenges that exist, and important work remains ahead.

Over the past year, I’ve been privileged to meet with many First Nations leaders and Aboriginal and Inuit communities, and through these discussions, I’ve developed an appreciation about the constructive ways we can work together to pursue this opportunity. I’ve learned that addressing environmental protection and economic benefit agreements are crucial, but that is not all. I’ve learned that we cannot begin the journey until we have established relationships — relationships that allow us to meet in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect and an understanding of our perspectives and interests.

These relationships cannot be established overnight, especially since there is a complex and at times painful history, a history that started long before Confederation. Indeed, Monday, as you know, marked the 250th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 — an important date in our shared history.

Now that history is very important, and we’re working our way through it with initiatives such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Today, I am here to discuss with you one important step on that road: generating economic security and prosperity for First Nations through the responsible development of our natural resources.

To achieve that goal, an essential precondition is respectful engagement with First Nations. And I want to express my gratitude to the chiefs, councillors, elders and individual members of First Nations communities whom I have met. You’ve been generous with your time and forthright with your words.

In the past year, many First Nations leaders, including some of whom I see in this room, have spoken to me with real passion — passion for the land and the water and for the traditions of the people who’ve been stewards of our natural heritage for thousands of years.

In my meetings, I’ve encountered different approaches, sometimes dramatically so, and words have varied from one discussion to another. But the central messages were very clear and consistent: the overarching obligation to protect the land and the water for future generations; the need to respect Aboriginal and treaty rights and advancing reconciliation through negotiation, consultation and dialogue; the importance of meaningful economic participation for First Nations in natural resource development; a participation that creates sustainable incomes and improved economic circumstances over the long term; and the expectation that the government will fulfil its legal duty to consult in a meaningful and effective way.

Our Responsible Resource Development initiative has on occasion been misunderstood, and I want to be clear on this. Our plan makes the regulatory process more protective of the environment by focusing resources on major projects that can have significant impacts. It also makes it more efficient and effective. An inefficient process with confused accountability, needless duplication and an open-ended time frame does not protect the environment or Aboriginal rights, but it does undermine the opportunity we have to create jobs for First Nations communities across Canada.

Our country must be competitive if we are to stand a chance against determined global competitors and seize the new markets that are crucial for success. If we permit our resources to be stranded, we will squander our legacy and forego enormous social and economic benefits for First Nations now and for future generations.

But as I have said repeatedly — and this is crucial — we will only allow natural resource projects to proceed that are safe for the environment. Our government will not sacrifice our environment for economic development. Fortunately, we do not have to. We can and we will ensure environmental protection while fostering economic development.

Today, Canada’s standards for environmental protection are stronger and tougher than ever before, and we will continue to strengthen them at the same time as technology and innovation improves safety.

Last year, we gave the National Energy Board the resources it needs to increase annual inspections of pipelines by 50 percent from a hundred to 150 a year and to double the number of annual comprehensive safety audits from three to six to identify issues before incidents occur.  

Between 2008 and 2012, more than 99.999 percent of the oil and gas transported on Canada’s federally regulated pipelines arrived safely. So the record is very good, but it is not perfect. We need to achieve our objective, which is zero serious spills or accidents. Our standard is world-class safety for the transport of our natural resources whether by pipeline, rail or tanker. On this we will not compromise.

We’ve given the National Energy Board new authority to impose serious financial penalties on companies that do not comply with safety and environmental regulations — up to $25,000 a day for individuals and $100,000 a day for companies for as long as the infractions are not addressed.

For the first time, companies must have a senior officer responsible specifically for pipeline safety. In July, I announced our intention to strengthen the principle of the polluter pays in law. Companies operating major pipelines will need to demonstrate a minimum financial capacity of $1 billion to clean up after any spill. The legislation will also ensure for the first time that companies’ emergency and environmental plans are available to the public so that anyone with an interest will be able to review them. The legal responsibility of pipeline owners for abandoned infrastructure will be clear.

To reiterate, we are absolutely committed to developing a world-class tanker and marine safety system in this country. In March, we built on the requirement of double hulls introduced in 2010 with mandatory pilotage. We’re increasing the number of tanker inspections and establishing a Canadian Coast Guard Incident Command Centre to allow more effective response to an incidence and a system of modern navigation aids on shipping routes. Importantly, we established an independent Tanker Safety Expert Panel to review our safety regime and proposed measures to make it stronger, particularly in respect to emergency preparedness. The panel was instructed to consult as widely as possible, including consulting with Aboriginal communities. As stewards of the land and water for thousands of years, your input is invaluable. Consistent with our legal obligation, Aboriginal consultation is integral to the entire process. We’ve allocated over $13 million over two years to support enhanced Aboriginal consultations on major projects from the earliest stages.

To support improved alignment, we’re reducing duplication and overlap of federal and provincial processes and improving coordination. For example, the government is negotiating memoranda of understanding on Aboriginal consultation with various provinces, which will support information sharing and engagement between both levels of government. An agreement is already in place in Nova Scotia, and others are expected soon.

We’re also undertaking enhanced outreach efforts with the provinces, First Nations, industry and others with a stake in the process to explain and clarify the Crown’s approach to the Aboriginal consultation and accommodation. We recognize that engaging Aboriginal peoples and communities in resource development involves more than just a legal duty. It also goes to engagement.

The Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy Infrastructure, Doug Eyford, who is here, was appointed as a direct link to the Prime Minister, ensuring First Nations priorities are understood and effectively articulated to the highest levels of our government. Mr. Eyford was provided with a clear mandate to identify opportunities to facilitate greater Aboriginal participation in the two key areas: resource development and environmental protection. His discussions with communities in B.C. and Alberta have brought home the importance of early engagement between senior government officials and Aboriginal groups on major natural resource projects. And we are following through. Senior federal officials are meeting with First Nations on an increasingly regular basis. They are listening; building a better appreciation of Aboriginal perspectives on everything from pipeline and marine safety to economic participation.

Done responsibly, the positive impact of resource development can be enormous. Resource projects can turn the high cost of isolation into a huge advantage of proximity for Aboriginal communities. In fact most mines and exploration properties in Canada are located within 200 kilometres of an Aboriginal community.

Over the next 10 years, 300,000 Aboriginal youth will be entering the workplace, at the exact same time when the resource sector will be experiencing a record-breaking shortage of labour. Resource industries already employ some 32,000 Aboriginal people, more than any other sector of our economy. Natural resource development means more opportunities for Aboriginal people close to their communities and traditional territories

Go back 20 years, and the unemployment rate among members of the Fort McKay First Nation in northern Alberta was 75 percent. Today, this First Nation runs a multi-million dollar business serving Fort McMurray and the oil sands. The Pacific Trails Pipeline agreement provides some $200 million in direct economic benefits to the 15 First Nations along the pipeline route, as well as substantial business and training opportunities.

To help Aboriginal communities get ready to take advantage of opportunities, our government has committed $618 million to infrastructure, education and skills and training programs. So we are acting in good faith to achieve the best results for your communities because we are determined to get this right.

Having said that, we all have responsibilities. Project proponents have to recognize that Aboriginal engagement is not only a Crown responsibility. It is in industry’s best interest to engage and consult early. The Government of Canada has a responsibility to put in place the rules and regulations that put teeth to environmental protection, to meet its duty to consult, to respect the terms of modern and history treaties and, yes, to establish a regulatory system that enables Canada to attract the investment it needs to develop its resources.

In this environment, First Nations will have an early and comprehensive opportunity to understand the implications of resource projects, evaluate the environmental implications and advance their economic interests.

We cannot take these responsibilities lightly. There is too much at stake.

This working session is about liquefied natural gas, and there is no question there is a tremendous potential for LNG development here on the West Coast. As you’re well aware, a flurry of LNG export projects and related pipeline infrastructure are proposed for our Pacific coast. The National Energy Board has issued three long-term LNG export licences, approving a total of 36 million tonnes of LNG per year. Four additional LNG export applications are under review, representing almost a 110 million tonnes of LNG per year. Exports could begin as early as 2015.

But the opportunity is not just LNG, it is all natural resources. Over the next 10 years, as much as $650 billion will be invested in natural resource development in Canada. That represents tens, if not hundreds of thousands of new jobs. It also means tens of billions of dollars in royalties to fund education, health care, housing, clean water and other programs that define our quality of life.

Of course our LNG natural resources are not going to sell themselves. And that’s why I’ve made numerous trips to the Asia–Pacific region over the past two years, and I’m going again soon. In every country I’ve visited, energy security is a number-one concern. I can tell you, countries like China, Japan, South Korea and India know full well the resources we have in Canada and the advantages of shipping from our West Coast — and we heard that this morning from the Japanese Ambassador. They understand that Canada is a reliable source of energy in a frequently unstable world.

So there is a fundamental strategic complementarity. We need to diversify our markets, and they need to diversify their sources of supply. But these opportunities are perishable. Canada is not the only game in town. Other countries have natural resources and are prepared to enter into long-term supply contracts now, so together, we must organize ourselves for success.

As Minister in a government focused on jobs, growth and long-term sustainable prosperity, I have a responsibility to advance the economic opportunities offered by the enormous resources Canada is been blessed with. The challenge is to make sure we develop and transport those resources in a manner that is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment and meets the needs of First Nations as reflected in a meaningful process of engagement and consultation. I have learned a lot in the past year from my meetings with First Nations. I want to continue the dialogue about these historic opportunities, so that we can work together in partnership to benefit your communities and all Canadians.

Thank you very much.