Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says that he is unequivocally open to having a permanent representative of Canada’s indigenous peoples on the board of the national energy regulator.
“That’s an easy one,” Carr said in an interview with Global News, “cultural practices of indigenous peoples should be embedded in the work of the National Energy Board.”
The Minister’s response comes after a recent Senate interim report recommended the government permanently appoint an indigenous peoples’ representative as part of efforts to modernize the agency. According to the report, the person would be appointed by the federal government in consultation with indigenous communities.
The National Energy Board reviews Canada’s energy projects, including the TransCanada Energy East pipeline and the recently approved Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Both projects have faced opposition from indigenous groups along their routes. Some are concerned about the environmental impact the pipelines could have on their territory and want a bigger say in whether energy projects ultimately get approved.
After a year-ending meeting with chiefs from around the country, Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellgarde told members of the press while there are divisions among the country’s 634 chiefs on pipelines, the right to self-determination means the right of First Nations to say “yes” or “no” to projects.
“Before anything is built, build a respectful relationship with indigenous peoples that respects rights, title and jurisdiction,” he said.
Bellgarde said that the Assembly of First Nations will have an energy forum in March to have more dialog on pipeline development and First Nations’ consent.
Giving the NEB the final say on a project under review was another of the Senate’s recommendations. Currently, cabinet can overrule an NEB decision. Though he didn’t rule it out, Carr wasn’t ready to accept the recommendation, saying the government should keep its role to represent the interests of indigenous peoples. “Uniquely, we have constitutional obligations to our indigenous peoples,” he said.
A five-person panel tasked with modernizing the NEB is to report to Carr by March 31, an extension of the initial January 1 deadline. The minister was optimistic all changes would be complete before the next election.