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OTTAWA — Greg Rickford will need to call on all his experience working with First Nations to resolve some of the toughest roadblocks in the Conservative government’s plan for energy and mining development.
The 46-year-old MP from Kenora, Ont., was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday to replace Joe Oliver as Natural Resources Minister. Awaiting him are brewing resource battles in British Columbia and Ontario that are both economically important and fraught with political risks for the government heading into the next election.
In both cases, the government’s relationship with aboriginal communities and its willingness to help finance their development are key.
Mr. Rickford came into politics promising to try to improve the economy and infrastructure of First Nations. Early in his career, he worked as a nurse and a lawyer in remote communities in northwestern Ontario. Running for election in 2008, one of his central campaign promises was about the need to improve conditions for aboriginal Canadians.
Among the top files he will have to grapple with: Stick-handling the government’s consultations with B.C. First Nations over the proposed and controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, and working with Ontario to make progress on the Ring of Fire mineral development, which is also mired in tough aboriginal discussions.
“One of the fundamental challenges with energy and resources, broadly speaking, is territorial issues. A lot of them, not all of them, but a lot of them today are associated with First Nations and aboriginal peoples,” said Joseph Doucet, the dean of the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta.
“And to the extent that [Mr. Rickford] has experienced sensitivity and an understanding of the issues – I think that could be really, really valuable.”
The new resources minister has served as parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, and since last summer, as minister of state for science and technology and the junior minister responsible for Northern Ontario, including the Ring of Fire.
Industry officials say he appears well-qualified for the job.
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