Oil industry’s 2014 resolution: to focus on aboriginal issues – by Jeffrey Jones (Globe and Mail – December 26, 2013)

The 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.

CALGARY — For the oil patch, 2014 has to be the year it finally gets its act together on aboriginal issues.

Industry leaders know they have to rethink their approach, and that the clock is ticking as they seek to get oil and gas through First Nations territories to export markets before opportunities vaporize. It stands to be their toughest task yet.

One problem is that the oil and pipeline companies are already behind in the trust-and-relationship-building departments after some misadventures that created bad blood, especially during the regulatory process for the Northern Gateway oil pipeline to the Pacific from Alberta.

For proof, take a peek at a recent survey by the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, which found that one-third of aboriginal Canadians have no trust whatsoever in oil and gas companies.

Another problem is that these are bottom-line-focused corporations with limited ability to solve major social and legal issues that have simmered for decades, and which many native leaders want dealt with before anything gets built on their lands.

Northern Gateway won conditional clearance from a federal regulatory panel last week and Ottawa has until the middle of 2014 to make a final ruling. Already, some B.C. native groups have promised court battles if the project – aimed at getting crude to more lucrative foreign markets – gets a green light.

David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), the sector’s main lobby group, understands both the nuance and the need to move quickly. He also knows the limitations as companies clamour for higher international oil prices for their shareholders.

Mr. Collyer has studied closely the recent report by Doug Eyford, who was tasked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to gather First Nations’ views on resource development. He says it lays out some workable approaches for fostering inclusion in the economy among native people.

“A lot of it is founded on relationships and trust and that has to be built over a period of time. One can certainly take the view that that foundation is not where we’d like it to be at the moment,” Mr. Collyer said in an interview.

“But I think it really does come down to the right people – government and industry, and importantly First Nations – trying to see if there’s a pragmatic way through this.”

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