The following is a transcript of Stephen Buffalo’s testimony before the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. He discusses the utility of fossil fuel subsidies for Indigenous communities.
This recording occurred on March 31, 2022. Please check against delivery.
By Stephen Buffalo, March 31, 2022
Thank you, Chair and Committee members, for the opportunity to speak to you today.
My name is Stephen Buffalo and I am the President and CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada (IRC). Our organization represents over 130 First Nations who produce or have a direct interest in the oil and gas industry. Our mandate is to advocate for federal policies that will improve and increase economic development opportunities for First Nations and their members.
So it is with some concern that I speak with you today. Our organization, and our members, care deeply about Mother Earth. We do not want to see harm and we actively protect against that.
But many of the things that have been described as fossil fuel subsidies are actually programs and funds that directly support our communities and our involvement in the oil and gas sector, and go a little way to rectifying some of the economic wrongs that have been done to us in the past.
Many of them are programs that are good for the environment, helping us reclaim our reserve lands and hunting grounds so future generations can enjoy them. And still others are designed to provide relief to the high cost of living our people face, especially those living in rural and remote communities, so they can have very basic things like heat and electricity and affordable food, and be able to drive to the grocery store or to medical appointments.
But because they involve oil and gas, they are considered bad. And I understand some members of the Committee want to get rid of these programs. And I can’t wrap my head around that logic. I can’t see how it’s consistent with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, or the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), or the honour of the Crown.
So I look forward to sharing the perspective of the Indian Resource Council on these so-called fossil fuel subsidies.
When I first looked into what is considered a fossil fuel subsidy, and what this Committee is trying to eliminate, I couldn’t find any official government sources. I guess that’s what you’re trying to figure out. But I found some reports from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that itemized it and I was honestly shocked by what I read.
One item was funding for a diesel generating station in Nibinamik First Nation. And another was Indigenous Services Canada investments in natural gas and diesel projects and electricity price support for Indigenous communities.
Honestly there are no other options other than diesel for a lot of places. If you don’t think our people deserve heat and electricity because it comes from oil, I honestly don’t know what to say to you.
Another was the Indigenous Natural Resource Partnerships fund. It’s honestly a small fund. It doesn’t make a big dent at all. But it’s meant to enhance the capacity of Indigenous communities to capitalize on business opportunities in the sector, and to support community engagement regarding participation in energy infrastructure opportunities. But this was on the list too – as a fossil fuels subsidy.
And then I saw the TMX and CGL pipelines were on the list. Because of loans they got, not subsidies. And you’re probably aware but with TMX, many Indigenous groups are trying to buy that pipeline from the federal government. The business case is really strong. At $110/barrel it’s tremendous, honestly.
And however it gets divided up, it’s going to provide long-term, stable, and predictable revenues to our communities. And it’s going to help us be more financially independent and have monies to spend on things that we think are important, not what the federal government decides to fund. But these groups would prefer you shelve the project.
Same with Coastal GasLink. In March, it was announced that 16 of the First Nations along the route have entered into an equity deal to buy up to 10 percent of the pipeline. And you know what? They asked the federal government to help out and provide loans to get them up to 30 percent. And you guys said no. Because it’s a natural gas pipeline.
So while the prime minister, and the G7, are literally asking the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to increase its gas deliveries, our people were denied an opportunity to get more long-term revenues because it would be considered a fossil fuel subsidy. It’s maddening.
But the one that bothers me the most is the funding for orphan and inactive well reclamation. It’s on the list too.
As part of COVID recovery efforts, the federal government committed $1.72 billion to clean up orphan or inactive oil and gas wells, pipelines and facilities. The IRC was successful in negotiating an $113 million set aside to abandon inactive wells on First Nations lands in Alberta. In Saskatchewan, $50 million was set aside for on-reserve program work. This is in addition to $20 million committed for Métis settlements in Alberta.
This program has been a shining success story for us. To date, we’ve cleaned up over 1674 well sites, pipelines, and facilities at various stages of abandonment. At least a dozen Indigenous prime contractors have been engaged. And we’ve created over 250 jobs for our people, thanks to hands on training to build the right skills.
We’ve cleaned up our reserve lands and returned them to their original state. Our leaders and our elders are very happy. And we are proud of the work we’ve done.
And here it is, on a list of bad things the government should stop doing. It’s hard not to feel insulted.
In closing, I just want to ask you to think really carefully about what you’re trying to accomplish here. The things I’ve listed – getting communities heat and power, creating economic opportunities, cleaning up lands – those are things you should be supporting. If anything, you should be doing more of it.
You passed UNDRIP legislation. You committed to reviewing all new legislation with that lens. So ask yourself, when you make your own list, if the programs you want to cut are helping or hurting Indigenous peoples in this country. And then I ask you to act accordingly.
Thank you and I look forward to answering your questions.
Stephen Buffalo is President and CEO of the Indian Resource Council and a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.