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COMMENTARY: UN criticism of Canada misses a big part of the energy development story

Court hears First Nations’ Trans Mountain challenge
WATCH: (Dec. 16, 2019) The latest court challenge on the controversial Trans Mountain expansion pipeline project has kicked off.

It might not bode well for Canada’s chances at winning a United Nations Security Council seat if the UN itself believes Canada is guilty of racism.

Mind you, it doesn’t bode well for the prospect of Canadians giving a damn about a UN Security Council seat if the UN itself is seen as a joke.

Canada is by no means perfect when it comes to issues around racism, but Canadians might rightly object to a committee whose membership includes Russia, China, Turkey, Algeria, and Hungary lecturing us on the matter.

To highlight resource development, of all the possible issues in Canada one might focus on, makes this whole matter even more of a farce.

READ MORE: Trans Mountain, LNG pipeline among projects UN racism committee urges to be stopped

The silver lining to all of this, however, is that it may provide an opportunity to draw attention to a side of the resource development story that certainly deserves more attention: the fact that many First Nations are embracing the chance to be partners on such projects and to reap the benefits for their communities.

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The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is urging Canada to immediately put a halt to the construction of three major resource projects: the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX); the Site C dam; and the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The committee objects to the fact that these projects have been approved without the consent of impacted Indigenous groups.

First and foremost is the fact that Canadian law does not obligate the government to obtain unanimous consent before proceeding with such projects. Indeed, such unanimity would be virtually impossible, thus guaranteeing that such projects would never be built.

The decision that struck down the approval of TMX made it clear that “meaningful consultation” did not mean an obligation to get everyone to agree.

But that court decision did underscore the importance of meaningful consultation, and it would appear that government and industry are finally starting to learn those lessons.

What’s also important to note, however, is that dozens of impacted Indigenous groups are supportive of TMX, and the prospect of a meaningful Indigenous ownership stake in the project itself is now a very real possibility.

If this UN committee — or other voices here in Canada — believes that it’s racist to ignore the Indigenous voices opposed to these projects, how then do we describe the inclination to ignore the Indigenous voices in support of these projects?

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This is also true when it comes to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is a key component of the $40-billion LNG Canada project. There has been a considerable amount of controversy and tension around the pipeline’s construction with some members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, including hereditary chiefs, trying to stop work on the project.

READ MORE: Indigenous opposition to Trans Mountain pipeline shouldn’t outweigh public interest: Provinces

A release this past week from the RCMP would seem to indicate that some opponents of the project are prepared to even go to dangerous lengths to stop it.

This project, though, has the support of not only both the federal and B.C. governments, but of all First Nations councils along the route — including the elected chief and council of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

It’s probably a fair criticism that past decisions to approve new energy projects fell short when it came to meaningfully consulting with First Nations or providing Indigenous communities the opportunity to share in the prosperity those projects created. But that is certainly changing, although you wouldn’t know it simply by reading the communiques of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The environmental impact of these projects may be up for debate, but there is a strong case to be made for Canada being a global energy player and having the ability to export its products to other markets.

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If First Nations see an opportunity to partner on those projects and help lift their communities out of poverty, it hardly seems like racism to embrace and welcome that.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.