This week members of First Nations whose communities, land, rights and title may be affected by LNG are gathering in Prince George, along with representatives of the provincial and federal governments, at a summit hosted by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council.
Im hopeful that this conference will help bring the B.C. Liberal government back down to earth on the LNG file, as their overblown hype undermines a rational, public debate on this potential development.
Its a concern, for example, that the Minister of Natural Gas Development doesnt appear to know his numbers. In an over-the-top speech at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, the minister tried to wow the crowd with a string of rapid fire numbers on LNG, similar to what weve heard from the Premier.
Unfortunately in his efforts to demonstrate how B.C. could support five LNG plants on our northwest coast, he clearly overstated our natural gas reserves by nearly 400%. He also completely neglected to acknowledge the fact that the government has yet to assess the capacity of the northwest air shed to carry projects. Such gross exaggeration and oversimplification in order to win cheap political points damages the governments credibility on LNG development.
The B.C. Liberal approach to certain northwest First Nations who are undecided about LNG plans is a recipe for destroying trust. Case in point is the Gitanyow. Two potential gas pipeline corridors could traverse their traditional territory. A year ago they signed a reconciliation agreement with the B.C. Liberal government that included a land use plan defining areas where different types of industrial activity could occur and where it wasnt appropriate due to sensitive habitat concerns.
In May when the Gitanyow were asked for initial comments by the government on the proposed pipeline corridors they referred to the mutually agreed on land use plan. The B.C. environmental assessment office responded that the land use plan doesnt apply to the pipeline proposals. Actions such as these call into question the honour of the Crown in signing agreements with First Nations and creates an atmosphere of distrust.
What we are also seeing is that the B.C. Liberals overzealous efforts to expedite their LNG plans is causing confusion in the government ministries responsible for assessing, permitting and monitoring industrial activities and this is diminishing confidence among members of the public that there will be a respectful and organized approach to development.
A classic example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing recently took place in the Kispiox Valley. When residents inquired about authorizations for LNG pipeline crews who were cutting trees near their properties, one ministry, Forest Lands and Natural Resource Operations, pointed at another agency, the Oil and Gas Commission, who took a few weeks to point the finger back at Forests and Lands. This confusion and non-answers on a simple permitting issue casts doubt on the B.C. Liberals ability to successfully manage several LNG projects in a manner that doesnt negatively impact local residents and First Nations.
The B.C. Liberals are also creating uncertainty about whether these projects will bring real benefits to communities by failing to show their plan to train people in First Nation and Northern communities to take full advantage of possible opportunities in the LNG industry. They have also not put forward a plan to ensure that our communities have the health care, housing and social services to handle an influx of workers from across the globe.
The continuing failure by the Liberal government to explain how LNG projects will fit in with our legally binding greenhouse gas reduction targets is another ambiguity that undermines an informed consideration of these projects.
Overall, the B.C. Liberals use of hype on LNG is creating an extremely high level of uncertainty for all concerned including communities, First Nations and industry. It is not a responsible way to deal with any natural resource we are blessed to commonly hold in this province. A more sober, rational and truthful approach to the potential opportunity of LNG from our provincial government is needed so we can make informed decisions about the real worth of this new industry.
Doug Donaldson is the NDP MLA for the Stikine and Official Opposition's aboriginal relations critic