February 4, 2016 2:30 pm
Updated: February 4, 2016 5:24 pm

Union sides with First Nations in pipeline fight

FILE PHOTO: Cheryl Bear, left, a councillor with the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, and Hereditary Chief Pete Erickson, of the Nak'azdli First Nation, listen during a news conference about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver, B.C., on Oct. 1, 2015.


VANCOUVER – A union representing thousands of British Columbia government workers has signed an accord vowing to oppose pipelines from crossing the territories of 130 First Nations.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union signed a solidarity accord affirming its support of the Save the Fraser declaration, taking aim at the provincial Liberals’ handling of resource projects.

The document of indigenous law bans the Northern Gateway pipeline or similar projects from crossing the signatories’ territories.

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About a third of the union’s 65,000 members work in direct government service. Treasurer Paul Finch said Thursday the union supports a recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling that found the province failed in its duty to consult with First Nations on Northern Gateway.

“Governments have a legal and moral responsibility to engage in meaningful consultations with First Nations peoples, to gain their support before projects of this kind proceed,” he said.

“So far, the B.C. government has spectacularly failed in this responsibility.”

Asked whether the union had concerns about opposing pipelines that could create jobs for British Columbians, Finch said it did not. He said there must be a new approach to how oil and gas projects are assessed in the province.

“We’re in favour of resource development projects. They just have to be done right,” he said.

“We keep coming again and again into confrontation over these projects. It’s very clear that how it’s being done is not working.”

Finch said union members strongly supported signing the accord and it had been years in the making.

The Northern Gateway pipeline, headed by Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB), would carry heavy Alberta oil to B.C.’s north coast and was approved in 2014 by the federal cabinet. First Nations and environmentalists have launched multiple legal challenges that are working their way through the courts.

A judge ruled last month that the B.C. government failed to consult with First Nations on the pipeline, stemming from the province’s decision to allow a single environmental assessment process under the National Energy Board rather than conducting a separate provincial review.

The provincial government has formally opposed both Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Saik’uz Chief Stan Thomas of the Yinka Dene Alliance, which spearheaded the declaration, said indigenous laws have guided the way First Nations use their lands and waters for generations and should be respected by all Canadians.

Thomas said the “tide was turning” on Northern Gateway, pointing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call for a moratorium on crude oil tankers on B.C.’s north coast.

“All of this is happening because we continue to uphold our laws and because First Nations and non-indigenous people are standing together,” he said.

First Nations from across B.C. have signed the declaration, symbolically banning pipelines from crossing large swaths of land that cover nearly the entire province.

The solidarity accord has also been signed by other labour unions including Unifor and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, as well as business, environmental and community groups.

Northern Gateway spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said 28 First Nations that have signed on as “equity partners” of the project stand to lose about $1 billion in long-term economic and educational benefits if Trudeau’s proposed north coast tanker ban proceeds.

The pipeline is expected to generate $1.2 billion in tax revenue for B.C. and create over 3,000 construction jobs and 560 long-term jobs in the province, he said, adding a total of 1,150 long-term jobs would be created, including in Alberta.

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.

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