July 27, 2012 – In their latest op-ed, MLI’s Brian Lee Crowley and Ken Coates write about Premier Christy Clark’s recent demands for B.C. to receive its “fair share” of the proceeds and improved environmental protections from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. Crowley and Coates say, “Premier Christy Clark has inadvertently given the Aboriginal demand for a great share of natural resource revenues a boost.” The full op-ed is copied below and it is published in The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon, Times Colonist in Victoria, Chronicle Herald in Halifax, Waterloo Region Record, Guelph Mercury, and the Truro Daily News.
Clark’s pipeline demands echo positions long held by Aboriginal leaders
By Brian Lee Crowley and Ken Coates, July 27, 2012
BC Premier Christy Clark has inadvertently given the Aboriginal demand for a great share of natural resource revenues a boost. The BC leader has launched a sharp critique of Alberta’s oil sands and pipeline strategy, insisting that the coastal province deserves a much greater share of the revenue than is currently planned. But her argument rests on a central tenet of Aboriginal claims.
BC, says Clark, will get a small portion of the total tax revenue derived from the pipeline. The province will also get a comparatively small number of short-term construction jobs. Yet BC will shoulder the lion’s share of the risk of a pipeline leak or a tanker spill off the province’s spectacular coastline. In sum, she asserts, it is a bad deal for British Columbia.
Clark’s position builds implicitly on a little-noticed observation from Mr Justice Thomas Berger’s famous 1970s Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry final report: location is a natural resource. The Northern Gateway project highlights this simple and powerful fact. Alberta has the oil. Tankers will line up at Kitimat to take that oil to Asia. But no pipeline across BC, and no oil terminal, no tankers, and no deal.
This argument—inhabitants of lands surrounding or affected by a resource project should have a major say in the decision to develop and should derive substantial benefit from the resource activity—is central to First Nations claims across the country. Even if the actual development site is on Crown or private land, nearby Indigenous communities too often bear the brunt of the economic, social and ecological dislocations.
When Aboriginal people assert their right, through judicially-imposed “duty to consult” requirements, to be involved with decision-making, to secure jobs and business opportunities, and to receive a fair and reasonable financial return from the project, they are both capitalizing on their legal and constitutional rights and asserting the pivotal truth that location is a natural resource.
History may not repeat itself, as a wise man once said, but it does rhyme. Does Premier Clark appreciate the irony that B.C. was long at the forefront of opposition to Aboriginal treaty and land rights until former Premier Gordon Campbell’s dramatic conversion? The province now finds itself, perhaps unwittingly, aligned with a long-standing Aboriginal position on natural resource development.
Canada is on the brink of a globally significant resource boom, connected to our almost unique combination of bountiful natural wealth and political and legal institutions that are the envy of the world. In many resource-rich nations, companies contend with dictators, terrorists, intense poverty, threats of nationalization, and uncertain property rights. In Canada, in contrast, they undergo sensible environmental review while enjoying the rule of the law, protection of private property and a reasoned tax regime.
One major cloud hangs over this otherwise attractive picture – unresolved Aboriginal rights and claims over resource-bearing land. As the recent Assembly of First Nations National Chief election demonstrated yet again, there is great Indigenous anger and unease about the pace and intensity of resource development in Canada. While many First Nations communities have found common ground with resource developers, others remain unconvinced about the benefits to their people from the exploitation of the wealth of traditional lands.
Premier Clark’s position on the Northern Gateway – so far disdainfully dismissed by Alberta Premier Alison Redford – should therefore sound strikingly familiar. The BC Premier is asking for much the same things Aboriginal leaders want: the ability to influence proposed projects and to receive appropriate benefits from them. Perhaps Premier Clark today has a touch more empathy for First Nations leaders and communities determined to find a place for themselves in the resource economy.
The Clark-Redford contretemps, focusing on one of the largest projects under development in Canada, highlights the need for a new approach to our resource wealth. The nation’s economic future likely hangs on the ability of national, provincial, territorial, Aboriginal and business leaders to chart a shared course that provides appropriate opportunities to participate in all aspects of development. This will require us all to look past the ownership of natural resources assigned to the provinces under the Constitution. That can only be the starting point of a much larger discussion, not the final word.
Global demand for resources, when coupled with a strong, sustainable and widely accepted framework for engagement and shared wealth creation, provides an unprecedented opening for Canada. Premier Clark’s sharp critique and demands, by echoing positions long-held by Aboriginal leaders, shows how important a rapprochement on resource development, job creation and revenue sharing is for this country.
Brian Lee Crowley is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent public policy think tank based in Ottawa and Ken Coates is the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan.