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After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau pledged again to build the embattled Trans Mountain expansion to the West Coast, British Columbia Premier John Horgan positioned his government to target the 1150 km pipeline twinning on a second front.
Having lost in B.C.’s court of appeal, which in May rejected Horgan’s attempt to impose additional oversight on the proposed bitumen corridor, last Thursday his Indigenous affairs minister tabled legislation Trudeau failed to get through the Canadian Senate.
“The road is long, but we have made reconciliation a cross-government priority and are taking important steps forward, in partnership with Indigenous peoples,” said Horgan in a statement issued after what was a ceremony at B.C.’s Legislative Assembly in Victoria.
Referencing the landmark 2014 Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court decision granting Aboriginal land title for six First Nations in the province’s interior, Horgan steered clear of TMX, for which cabinet’s consultation credibility is being tested by the Federal Court of Appeal to the standard Tsilhqot’in’s ruling.
Instead the premier spoke in generalities, promising to do “the hard work… together with Indigenous peoples, to build a true government-to-government relationship based on reconciliation, respect and the shared goal of a better future for everyone in B.C.”
Former NDP MP Romeo Saganash, a Cree from northern Quebec who did not seek reelection, was in attendance. His federal Bill C-262 with the same aim died in the Senate last June. Independent MP-elect Jody Wilson-Raybould was also there.
Veteran regulatory lawyer and longtime insider Bill Gallagher, author of two books about where resource interests intersect with aboriginal rights, said the adoption of UNDRIP should light a fire under Trudeau and Morneau to make a deal with Indigenous groups who want to buy the pipeline.
“In light of what’s happening in B.C., Morneau had better pull out all stops when it comes to Native equity and Native profile, if he wants that project to have a chance, in that current environment,” Gallagher told The Post Millennial.
Gallagher said that from an “academic point of view the constitutional rulings Natives have (in Canadian court) outclass the UN Declaration which is non-binding, in terms of substance and import.”
“I think the native movement is making a big mistake by chasing this Golden Fleece, as opposed to commercializing their own legal wins,” he said. “I’ve almost given up on that dichotomy… Horgan is out there breaking that mold.”
When Trudeau green-lit TMX a second time last June, Canadians were owners of what Saganash’s NDP colleagues described as a $4.5 billion “leaky pipeline” that the prime minister indicated he was willing to sell lock, stock and barrel to Indigenous interests.
Since then, apart from several Indigenous consortiums expressing serious interest in acquiring the project, among them dozens of First Nations on the pipeline’s right-of-way – aka the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group – that talk has muted considerably.
In the wake of Trudeau’s minority government result in last week’s federal election, he and Morneau have been bullish about getting TMX built but short on details, including possible First Nation ownership.
With NDP holding the balance of power in a Trudeau minority, Gallagher said that Saganash’s UNDRIP bill, “will be coming right back… the (federal) NDP want it and their buddies in B.C. have already taken steps to add it.”
“They’re trying to green this funnel from the oil sands saying they’re going to put profits into green energy,” he said of rhetoric from Trudeau and Morneau on where profits on the nationalized project would be directed.
“And Trans Mountain doesn’t have it and it’s heading into a whole new environment in B.C. as of two o’clock yesterday… it was a pivotal moment. Funny that it happened just three days after the election.”