The federal government's appointment of a special representative to address Aboriginal concerns around energy infrastructure such has pipelines didn't impress one local First Nations leader.
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council chief Terry Teegee said Tuesday he has no intention of meeting with the Prime Minister Stephen Harper's special envoy Doug Eyford to talk about the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
"It won't change our opinion of this project, so what more can be said about the project that can change our minds?" Teegee said. "Whether it's this guy or a different guy, not much is going to change."
Eyford is tasked with meeting with First Nations groups in B.C. and Alberta over the next few months to find out what concerns they have about natural resources infrastructure projects and try to find solutions which include maximizing the benefits First Nations communities can count on.
"Listening is a key part of it, but it's also designed to work towards finding solutions," federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in a phone interview from Terrace where he announced Eyford's appointment. "It's not just an academic exercise, it's not just a position paper, it's trying to get an action-oriented set of recommendations that will be presented to the Prime Minister."
Eyford will be expected to provide a preliminary report to Harper on June 28 and a final report on Nov. 29. Neither report will be made public because Oliver said the confidentiality of the people Eyford will be talking to needs to be respected.
Oliver said the consultations and report aren't intended to replace the federal government's duty to consult First Nations groups, but is designed to enhance it.
Eyford, a Vancouver-based mediator and arbitrator, has experience dealing with First Nations issues and Oliver said Eyford was appointed to the job in part because he knows the key players and understands the issues. In addition to meeting with First Nations leaders, Eyford will also be expected to enter into discussions with provincial government officials.
Although the tight timelines mean Eyford will be issuing his findings before the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel rules on Northern Gateway's environmental assessment application,
Oliver said Eyford is not tasked with dealing with that project specifically. Northern Gateway, which aims to connect Alberta's oilsands with Kitimat via a pipeline, is currently undergoing an environmental review.
"[Northern Gateway is] certainly something that's top of mind for some of the communities," Oliver said. "[Eyford is] going to be listening with respect to everything, but he's not going to get involved in that determination, it's undergoing an independent regulatory review."
Teegee's organization has been consistently opposed to the $6.5 billion project and said it would have been more helpful to have a federal envoy appointed earlier in the process. Still he doesn't think much will change now that Eyford's role has been created.
"I don't think it will do much in terms of changing our minds around this project," he said. "Right now we're pretty steadfast in our opinion of this project. With this appointment, we wonder what exactly is going to change with this project?"
Federal NDP Aboriginal affairs critic Jean Crowder said by appointing Eyford, the federal government is scrambling to shore up support for its resource development ambitions.
“First Nations have loudly and clearly said that resource development won't happen without them at the table,” Crowder told the Canadian Press. “I think this is an afterthought because they bungled the process and now they have to step up and do something.”