First Nations will be playing a larger role in B.C.’s future developments, says the newly elected NDP representative for the region covering most Nuu-chah-nulth territories.
In the May provincial election Scott Fraser won by a landslide in the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding, defeating his Liberal opponent by almost 6,000 votes. Other Nuu-chah-nulth territories are included in Vancouver Island North, where Claire Trevena also won under the NDP platform by 3,107 votes. Province-wide, the BC Liberals narrowly won the most seats, but now the NDP are positioned to control the legislature through an agreement signed with the Green Party this week.
“It will be an NDP government,” said Fraser of the partnership with the Greens. “They will support us as a government. They have agreed to vote on any confidence votes positively so that we can maintain government.”
According to the NDP’s election platform, the party promises to follow the tenets of the Truth and Reconciliation’s final report, as well as adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This declaration includes a First Nation’s right to manage its “distinct political, legal, social and cultural institutions.”
“We’re going to need to work closely with First Nations and Nuu-chah-nulth, for sure, to bring this all about,” said Fraser. “We want our relationship to be based on that respect and recognition, and we’re going to need all the help we can get from First Nations to make sure that we’re successful.”
This relationship between the province and First Nations is expected to determine the future of several natural resource developments, including large-scale LNG projects planned for B.C. coast. Alongside Steelhead LNG, the Huu-ay-aht First Nations are exploring what could be one of the province’s largest, with plans for a plant in Sarita Bay that could export 24 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas annually. With the prospect of creating hundreds of jobs, the Huu-ay-aht secured more control in the Sarita area in May by purchasing land from Western Forest Products for $3 million.
Under the leadership of Christy Clark, The Liberals have stressed the importance of LNG as a major economic force for the future of B.C. The NDP have taken a more cautious stand on the issue, pointing to the environmental considerations that must be taken into account before a project is approved. With the new political partnership, the Greens are likely to push for more safeguards.
“If we increase the production of LNG, even if it is produced more and more efficiently, emissions are still going up,” stated Weaver in a 2014 post on the Green Party’s website. “Ultimately, the climate only cares about the total amount of carbon pollution a facility would release and how much carbon pollution is in our atmosphere.”
“We’ve never said no to LNG. The Greens have a different take on LNG, and that’s fine,” said Fraser.
“We will be improving the environmental assessment process in the province, anything that will affect the environment will get more attention,” he added. “Those conditions have to be met before any project will meet our approval, and I that’s something that the people of British Columbia have been demanding anyways.”
Huu-ay-aht Councillor John Jack is optimistic that an NDP-Green government will not hinder the First Nations’ LNG plans.
“I do believe they’ll set a high bar, but I don’t think it’s an insurmountable one,” he said. “The co-management arrangement between Steelhead and Huu-ay-aht alone is innovative enough and we think will likely meet the expectations of the NDP and the Greens in regards to how you would reconcile economic concerns with environmental concerns in a way that could work.”
The National Energy Board has heard from over a dozen LNG projects proposed for B.C.’s coast, but Jack believes the Sarita Bay project stands apart due to the relationship Steelhead has with the Huu-ay-aht.
“This is a unique partnership that does address the concerns of our Huu-ay-aht people, of the hereditary leaders and our elected leaders in such a way that we’re all in support of the project right now,” he said, adding that the Huu-ay-aht have negotiated to be involved in every stage of the project, including feasibility, construction, operation and decommissioning. “That co-management involves being on an oversight board that looks at each those phases, but also includes a seat on the board of the operating company to make sure that we have full amount of information in regards to what’s going on. When you have a seat on the board, they really can’t hide anything from you at that point. “
Fraser plans to soon meet with Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert Dennis.
“I’m looking forward to working closely with Nuu-chah-nulth as a member of government, not just a member of the opposition,” said Fraser. “Protecting the environment, making sure that we meet our climate change obligations, First Nations figure formatively in this. Nothing should be going through with disregard to First Nations that are involved in the territories they’re in.”