Treaty settlement the only way to end pipeline deadlock – by Daniel Veniez (Globe and Mail – October 17, 2012)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

The broken treaty process is a conspicuous illustration of a major impediment to the expansion of British Columbia’s economy. The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline debacle is its latest casualty.

In 1992, the federal and provincial governments created the BC Treaty Commission (BCTC) to facilitate the negotiation and settlement of treaties in British Columbia. Twenty years and an estimated $900-million later, a grand total of three treaties have been signed. Sophie Pierre, the Chief Commissioner, told me that the commission could be around for another 20 years.

Unsettled land claims are a quagmire, and the perpetual uncertainty over ownership and control of the land has stopped resource development. This should be a wake-up call to policy makers.

Aboriginal rights and title are protected by the Constitution, and confirmed as a concept in common law. The courts have repeatedly encouraged governments to deal with these claims. Politically at least, Ottawa and Victoria have not shown an interest in resolving these issues. Governments don’t appear to appreciate the economic damage their procrastination has inflicted. Some politicians are skeptical of treaties and prefer to pretend there’s no need for them. That’s a delusion. The Northern Gateway fiasco is an example of the extraordinary costs we endure for government inattentiveness.

Most reasonable Canadians would agree that moving our energy resources to customers in new markets is in our national interest. The Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal was designed to fill part of that need. Yet it was left to Enbridge to do all the heavy lifting. There has never been a coherent and co-ordinated approach from the federal, Alberta and B.C. governments to deal with the file. This has not only jeopardized this pipeline proposal, but any others for the foreseeable future.

Despite the fact that the constitutional requirement to consult with and accommodate first nations resides with governments and may not be delegated, Enbridge was left alone to negotiate and secure no less than 43 agreements with individual first nations along the environmentally treacherous 1,177-kilometre proposed route. The first nations want to talk about aboriginal rights and title, topics open only to governments. Enbridge can offer only economic participation and environmental safeguards – necessary but hardly sufficient.

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