FN coalition proposes changes for sharing benefits of resource projects

The First Nations Major Projects Coalition is calling on the federal government to consider its eight recommendations as part of a new benefits sharing framework for resource projects in First Nations' traditional territory.

In December Prime Minister Justin Trudeau identified the need for a new benefits sharing framework as a priority for his government. The coalition put forward its recommendations on Tuesday during the group's annual Industry Engagement Event in Prince George.

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"Effecting real change and progress can not be done by one party working in isolation," coalition chairperson Chief Sharleen Gale said. "The government could not have a better partner than First Nations. Decisions that we make in our communities are from the land up."

Gale, who is the chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation, said Indigenous groups have traditionally faced, and continue to face, significant barriers to participating in development on natural resources in their traditional territories.

Many of the organization's member First Nations are interested in buying a stake in projects in their territories, but access to financing can be a major barrier, she said.

"Equity ownership offers a chance for our nations to fully take part in the mainstream economy," Gale said. "When a First Nation is doing good, the benefits trickle up to the community."

Chief Corrina Leween, of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, said her nation bid on purchasing a stake in the Coastal GasLInk natural gas pipeline project, but weren't able to secure the capital they needed.

"Cheslatta was squeezed out because the cost of capital was uncompetitive," Leween said. "We don't want to be squeezed out of another opportunity on our lands. We want to be able to collaborate on projects... and to have a seat at the project governance table."

The coalition made the following eight recommendations for the federal government as it looks at its new benefit sharing framework:

1) Leverage available tools within the federal fiscal framework to establish a program designed to support Indigenous groups with access to capital (such as loan guarantees) for a wide variety of resource projects.

2) Ensure maximum flexibility of those tools and programs to be able to support Indigenous groups with ownership objectives over a wide variety of project dynamics and asset classes.

3) Develop and sustain an Indigenous major projects capacity fund to support Indigenous communities with professional advice and counsel necessary to undertake independent due diligence on projects.

4) Engage with Indigenous nations and Indigenous organizations on the development of qualifying criteria to define the size and scale of major projects and determine how the national benefits sharing framework would support Indigenous involvement in those projects.

5) Engage with Indigenous nations and Indigenous organizations who have direct experience participating in the commercial aspects of major project development on the design of a national benefits sharing framework.

6) Establish a joint-engagement and collaboration with industry and institutional sectors to support First Nations equity ownership across all sectors in the context of Indigenous rights and reconciliation.

7) Work with First Nations to design the appropriate mechanism that ensure benefits flow to community-level projects.

8) Ensure that benefits are established in a setting that confirms a rigorous and robust environmental review process that adheres to standards adopted by First Nations communities.

The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada and the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships both supported the proposed recommendations.

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