OTTAWA—Indigenous communities are open to a new consultation on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but many are greeting its launch with some caution.
The Liberal government said yesterday it won't appeal the August decision from the Federal Court of Appeal that tore up cabinet approval for the pipeline's expansion.
Instead, Natural Resources minister Amarjeet Sohi said the government is hiring former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee a new round of consultations with affected indigenous communities using the road map for those consultations the court laid out in its decision.
Iacobucci's first order of business will be to oversee the process to design the consultations in concert with First Nations and Métis leaders.
Consultations themselves won't start until that design phase is completed—and there is no timeline for that.
Squamish First Nation, which thus far has opposed the construction of the pipeline, welcomed the decision not to appeal in a statement, but appeared wary about the new consultation process.
“Our nation expects an honourable consultation process that upholds our nation's indigenous rights,” said Khelsilem, a band councillor and spokesman for Squamish.
“The Trudeau government tried to ram this project through our territory with a predetermined outcome, and this was not acceptable to Squamish Nation or the courts.”
Khelsilem added artificial timelines would not be acceptable.
In the appeal, Squamish leaders told the court they didn't feel they had enough information to decide how risky the pipeline was to their territory, which includes Burrard Inlet—the narrow waterway through which as many as 35 oil tankers would travel each month carrying diluted bitumen away from the pipeline's marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
But Chief Michael LeBourdais, of the Whispering Pines Clinton Indian Band near Kamloops, B.C., said the new consultation is “extraordinarily ambitious.”
Whispering Pines supports the pipeline and was the first to sign a benefits agreement on the pipeline with Kinder Morgan Canada, which owned the pipeline until Aug. 31 when the federal government bought it for $4.5 billion.
LeBourdais said the consultation is another opportunity to push for better benefits for First Nations, including a percentage of the value of the oil that flows through the pipeline or an equity stake in the project.
Sohi noted the government planned to put additional people on the file, and ensure all government employees involved have a clear mandate not just to listen to concerns but to figure out how they can be reasonably accommodated.
However, he said reasonable accommodation does not mean every First Nation has to be on side before the project can proceed.
“We also understand there are still groups that will still oppose this project," Sohi noted. ”That's fine. That's their right to do so.
“But that does not mean that if we fulfil our constitutional obligation that those groups may have a veto to stop this project.”
NDP MP Romeo Saganash questioned whether the government could call the consultations meaningful when it is adamant the pipeline expansion proceed.