Tories aim to divide, conquer with envoy who will canvas First Nations on energy projects – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – March 20, 2013)

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There is no deadlier combination for resources developers than opposition from a joint front of environmentalists and First Nations.

In what appears to be a divide-and-conquer strategy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper named a special representative Tuesday to investigate first hand why First Nations in British Columbia are so opposed to energy infrastructure projects, including the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.

In an announcement from Terrace in northwest B.C., near the Kitimat port that has been earmarked to house major oil and gas export developments, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Vancouver lawyer Douglas Eyford has been given the task to engage with Aboriginal communities in British Columbia and Alberta and report his findings directly to the Prime Minister. He will present a preliminary report by June 28, and will issue a final report by Nov. 29.

“The goal is clear,” Mr. Oliver said. “Douglas Eyford will help identify opportunities to facilitate greater participation by Aboriginal peoples in resource development while at the same time identifying ways in which Aboriginal peoples can play a greater role in strengthening environmental protection.

“Our government believes that, by working together with Aboriginal peoples, provinces and industry, all Canadians can share in the jobs and prosperity that await us if we act now for the good of Canada.”

The charm offensive is in sharp contrast to the short fuse the federal government has shown for environmentalists in both Canada and the United States, who Mr. Oliver has called “radicals” and has accused of wildly exaggerating the oil sands’ environmental impacts. Their alliance with B.C. First Nations has fuelled the powerful opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

But separate them and environmentalists lose a lot of leverage. Aboriginals have constitutionally protected rights that give them a say over development on their traditional lands. Environmentalists can be influential pressure groups, but that’s all.

Historically, the two constituencies have not always seen eye-to-eye and First Nations seem increasingly divided about how they feel about the oil sands.

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