The federal government is to consult with First Nations before any project approvals on B.C.’s North Coast.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement in Prince Rupert as part of National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations on Thursday.
“We need to have the best, not just spill response, but the best ocean management system in the world,” Trudeau said.
“At the heart of that is understanding you cannot do that without a real and deep partnership with the people who know this place best, who live it, who have been stewards for it for millennia. This is what today is about.”
The Government of Canada and First Nations have formally agreed to coordinate on conservation of oceans, including developing a network of marine protected areas, increasing emergency preparedness, and boosting First Nations’ response capacity.
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The partnership is part of the federal government’s $1.5-billion Oceans Protection Plan.
Trudeau has been criticized by some First Nations for not listening to their concerns over the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The federal government is moving forward with a plan to buy the existing pipeline from Kinder Morgan and proceed with its expansion .
“We have always been very clear that protecting the environment and growing the economy need to go together,” said Trudeau.
“We are going to listen to all Indigenous voices and continue to work with them, listen to all Canadians and work with them, to allay concerns they may have.”
Trudeau met with First Nations leaders about the pipeline expansion earlier this month.
There is growing concern about what the pipeline could cost taxpayers in the long term. Ottawa will look for a buyer for the project once they can ensure work will start on the twinning.
What is unclear is how the estimated $7.4-billion cost of the expansion would be covered if the federal government can’t sell the project.
“There is a tremendous uprising to try to make Justin Trudeau make a change in his decision making,” said Eddie Gardner, president of the Wild Salmon Defenders Alliance following that meeting.
“It is a misguided decision, it is misplaced political will. Instead of investing some $15 billion in a misguided dying industry, that money should be invested in renewable technology. The world counts on Canada to be a leader in climate change. This is the wrong way to go.”
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Trudeau’s says the reconciliation agreement announced on Thursday will help Canada deliver on the promise of collaborative management to protect and preserve the north coast.
Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett said the agreement is a positive step forward.
“This agreement is an encouraging and positive step forward in our journey toward nation-to-nation collaboration and reconciliation,” Slett said at the announcement.
“Now we have the opportunity to work with Canada to ensure efficient and sustainable marine management and protection initiatives, which promise to preserve healthy and resilient marine ecosystems for all future generations, while supporting coastal communities and economic opportunities today.”
The Heiltsuk First Nation produced a report in April that said failures in Canada’s emergency response measures were evident within hours of the grounding of the Nathan E. Stewart on Oct. 13, 2016.
The sinking of a tug in the waters off the renowned Great Bear Rainforest last year led to 110,000 litres of diesel spilling on the coast.
Trudeau also alluded to an announcement coming on Friday from federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau.
Garneau is expected to address stress on the southern resident orca population.
“There is going to be a big announcement tomorrow on how we are going to move forward on ensuring protection for marine animals. This is one of those things we need to take very seriously,” said Trudeau.
“There are still people out there who believe we have to make a choice between either protecting the environment or taking care of your people and the jobs will come in future generations. There is not a choice to be made. You need to care for the land and the people at the same time.”
- With files from the Canadian Press