B.C. minister under fire for visit to Coastal GasLink pipeline blockade

B.C.'s forests and natural resource minister Doug Donaldson is facing scrutiny and a call to resign after visiting a pipeline blockade this past weekend.

Members of the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation had set up a camp and a checkpoint southwest of Houston, blocking a forest service road and Coastal GasLink from accessing its pipeline right-of-way in its territory.

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RCMP began clearing the blockade and arrested 14 people on Monday as it enforced a BC Supreme Court injunction granting Coastal GasLink access to the area. But Donaldson met with Gidimt'en hereditary leaders at the camp on Sunday before police moved in "to support and recognize that the hereditary chief have a responsibility for stewardship of the yintah (land)," the CBC reported.

Donaldson arrived at the camp with his wife and donated a box of goods, according to the CBC. He declined to speak to reporters at the scene, but released a statement late Monday.

"As MLA for Stikine, it is my responsibility to listen to the views of the people I represent," Donaldson said. "I visited the checkpoint on the invitation of my constituents and hereditary chiefs to hear their concerns and observe their protocols."

The protest camp is located in the Nechako Lakes riding, represented by BC Liberal MLA John Rustad.

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said the government has broken the law and taken the side of protestors with Donaldson's visit.

"It's time for Doug Donaldson to resign," Wilkinson said in a statement. "It's time for John Horgan to stand up make clear his Minister of Forests has made a huge mistake."

Construction on the $6.2-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline connecting natural gas producers in Northeast B.C. with the LNG Canada export plant in Kitimat is scheduled to begin this month. Coastal GasLink, a subsidiary of TransCanada, obtained an injunction in December that ordered the removal of obstructions in the area as preliminary work gets underway on the pipeline.

TransCanada says it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the route but demonstrators argue Wet'suwet'en house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected, have not given consent for work through their territories.

"This visit was an acknowledgement of their authority as confirmed in the historic Delgamuukw-Gisdaywa decision," Donaldson said.

"At the same time I am aware that the laws of Canada must be upheld and court injunctions must be followed. This illustrates how these two systems of law are colliding and underlines the importance of the separate reconciliation process our government has undertaken with the Office of the Wet'suweten.

"My commitment to a process of reconciliation remains firm and my first objective in the current legal situation is to ensure the safety of all," Donaldson said.

However, Nechako Lakes MLA John Rustad said Donaldson's ability to approve resource development permits has been compromised by the visit. Donaldson's ministry will be responsible for issuing a number of permits needed for the pipeline, approved for construction in 2016.

"As a member of government, Doug Donaldson promised to uphold the law in B.C., yet this weekend he chose to side with protestors who are breaking the law," Rustad said in a statement.

"Donaldson needs to figure out if he is a minister or an activist. British Columbians deserve better than this from the NDP."

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