This article originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal.
By Stephen Buffalo, December 6, 2023
It’s hard to remain quiet. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long said that relationship and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is a top priority for his government.
And then he ignores us again. The Government of Canada is on the verge of doing it once more, this time on the emissions cap.
The government is preparing for COP28, the world climate event being held, seemingly without a touch of irony, in Dubai. The latest attempt at global attention grabbing is anticipated to be a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions which, in Western Canada, is a code for a sharp drop in authorized fossil fuel production.
Over the past four decades, Canadian governments urged and promoted Indigenous peoples to engage in the natural resource economy. We were anxious to break our dependence on government and, even more, to exercise our treaty and Indigenous rights to build our own economies. We jumped in with far more enthusiasm and commitment than most Canadians appreciate.
Well over 100 First Nations are substantially invested in oil and gas production as employees, employers, partners and equity participants. Dozens more have approved pipeline construction across their traditional lands. Many more have solid investments in oil and gas development and infrastructure. And we seek a greater and more meaningful role.
Of course, we do not support unchecked exploitation of natural resources. We insist on careful attention to environmental protection and remediation. And we expect and deserve fair compensation for the extraction of oil and gas from our lands. We are sick and tired of being poor and welfare dependency. We have, particularly in the past 20 years, established hundreds of companies and partnerships and trained thousands of our people for work in the energy industry.
Now the government is cutting our feet out from under us again. Over the past decade, Ottawa slowed pipeline development, passed legislation that hampered resource development, imposed increasingly strict controls on fossil fuel development, and created new levies and taxes to thwart our efforts.
They did all they could to shame the industry that, more than any other, sustains Canadian prosperity. Rapid population growth, manufacturing and urban sprawl, all major contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, have been largely untouched.
And now, in a bid to make Canada look ecologically virtuous on the world stage, the Liberal government is poised to impose further restrictions on the oil and gas sector. This is happening as Indigenous engagement, employment and equity investment is growing and at a time when our communities have had their first taste of real and sustainable prosperity since the newcomers killed off all the buffalo. Thanks for nothing.
We are astonished by Canada’s seemingly limited understanding of the role of oil and gas in Canadian prosperity. We get — and embrace — the concern about climate change and emissions. We support logical, collectively developed measures that will contribute to a reduction in Canada’s ecological impacts. But let us do this with our eyes wide open and by looking at all possible ways of meeting our climate targets. Norway gets little pushback for major expansions of its oil production; Canada, ever and undeservedly the global environmental doormat, takes intense criticism while operating one of the most environmentally sound and regulated energy sectors in the world.
All of Canada will pay a big price for our faux stewardship of the country’s remarkable energy resources. The federal government, wrestling with growing debt and staggering interest payments, collects billions annually in oil and gas revenues. The three western provinces contribute billions to federal equalization payments, with Quebec receiving the largest share.
But the western contribution earns little sympathy from Quebec, which stopped discussion of the Energy East pipeline in its tracks, closing off a new market for Canadian producers and retaining Eastern Canada’s dependence on imported oil. We are still waiting for a national “thank you” for access to the resources and the cash harvested from our oil and gas-rich lands.
It is fair to say that Canadians and the national government do not understand the seething anger building up in our communities. I know that I am not the only one who is truly upset. We followed government signals and found our feet economically in the past two decades. We created a space for ourselves in an industry that is fundamental to Canadian prosperity.
Indigenous people demonstrated their entrepreneurial skills and their ability to invest in both community development and long-term wealth creation keeping in mind both our present and future generations. The government seems willing to overturn our carefully won opportunities and prosperity, without the courtesy of full conversation acting as a colonial power.
Indigenous people have been betrayed many times over the last 200 years, but the most recent betrayals always hurt the most. We thought Canada had turned the corner in its respect for Indigenous peoples and our rights. Watch carefully over the next few days. If the prime minister talks about emissions controls, he really means production rollbacks. This is a slap in the face of Indigenous peoples.
Stephen Buffalo is a proud member of the Samson Cree Nation. He is president and CEO of the Indian Resources Council of Canada, chair of the board of directors of Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation, a senior fellow at the MacDonald Laurier Institute, and the first ever Indigenous governor of the Canadian Energy Executive Association.