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It was the most exciting thing to happen in the foyer of the House of Commons, since the late Reg Alcock nearly provoked fisticuffs when he called Peter MacKay “a scumbag.”
A group of native chiefs protesting new government legislation jostled with security guards outside the chamber of the House Tuesday, as they tried to push their way inside. It was over in an instant, without so much as a torn hangnail.
But it served notice that not only are First Nation leaders frustrated, they know they are riding a wave of native empowerment that has come nowhere close to cresting.
The Assembly of First Nations met Tuesday in Gatineau to catalogue the usual litany of how they’ve never had it so bad. Yet on the ground, natives are the resource rulers – wielding a veto over which projects will succeed or fail.
Bill Gallagher, a lawyer and author who has written a book called Resource Rulers: Fortune and Folly on Canada’s Road to Resources, says natives have an almost unbroken series of 171 court case victories, when it comes to resource cases. “It is a very one sided legal contest,” he told the CBC.
Canada’s economic future is pegged to the successful completion of many of these resource projects, so we are in the somewhat ironic situation where the country’s fate is in the hands of its most disadvantaged citizens.
If you doubt that statement, look at the numbers. Canada loses $60-million a day in revenue — $22-billion a year — because of the discounted price it receives for its oil from U.S. customers. If that oil could make it to Asian markets, it could command closer to $110 a barrel, rather than the $75 producers currently receive.
To close that gap, the oil needs to get to the West Coast. But, for most informed observers, the Northern Gateway pipeline is dead, even if it wins approval from the National Energy Board next December. The reason is, in large part, aboriginal opposition.
Stephen Kakfwi is a former premier of Northwest Territories, and cut his teeth in politics fighting the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline in the 1970s.
“I was 24 years old – I didn’t even have a bank account.”
Mackenzie Valley was labeled “the biggest project in the history of free enterprise” when it was launched in the mid-1970s. It was killed by Justice Thomas Berger’s report in 1977, which recommended any pipeline be delayed 10 years.
The plan was resurrected at the suggestion of native leaders, including Mr. Kakfwi, in 2000, but he opposed it again when he became dissatisfied at the level of First Nation involvement being offered by the lead company, Imperial Oil.
For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/12/04/john-ivison-the-fate-of-our-resources-is-in-the-hands-of-our-most-disadvantaged-citizens/