BY BILL PHILLIPS
Premier John Horgan says he respects protestors’ right to oppose Coastal GasLink’s natural gas pipeline. However, he says Coastal Gaslink has done what it needs to do to get Indigenous approval for the project.
“It has been my view that LNG Canada has shown they understand the importance of consultation and meaningful reconciliation with First Nations and that’s why they have signed agreements with every First Nation along the pipeline corridor,” Horgan said Wednesday from Victoria. “… When the final investment decision was announced in October, it was government’s conclusion that the conditions we had for LNG proceeding in British Columbia had been met. All nations, from wellhead to waterline had signed benefit agreements … This project represents a great opportunity for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike, but it also highlights the challenges of reconciliation.”
Fourteen people were arrested Monday as police enforced a court injunction to remove blockades on the Morice West Forest Service Road south of Houston preventing work from beginning on the pipeline.
The Unist’ot’en Camp was erected in 2012 by the Wetsuwet’en to oppose pipelines in the Indigenous community’s traditional territory. On December 14, Coastal GasLink was granted an injunction allowing access to the area to start work on the pipeline, which would transport natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat. A second blockade was also erected at the Gitimt’en camp, several kilometres from the Unist’ot’en Camp at the Morice River Bridge.
Complicating the issue is the fact the elected Wet’suwet’en band council has endorsed the pipeline project and signed a benefit agreement. It is the hereditary chiefs who are leading the opposition to the project.
“There’s no quick fix to resolving issues that go back to 1876 and beyond,” said Horgan. “There’s no quick fix when it comes to addressing differences of opinion within families, within communities, within clans.”
Horgan pointed out there are five clans and 13 houses in the Wet’suwet’en territory. And Horgan, who spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday, said the federal government has a big role to play in finding a solution.
“We have court ruling after court ruling that has affirmed we need to find a better way forward and the old Indian Act management style still exists,” said Horgan. “We have to find a way to reconciliation that brings together the various orders of government in Canada and that’s what we intend to do.”
Horgan said there are no easy answers to the situation, given the complexity of the issues between clans and the elected band council.
“The challenge for governments, federal and provincial, is determining how we bring together the historic band council with the emerging hereditary model that very much manifesting itself in Wet’suwet’en territory,” he said.
Horgan added every circumstance is different. He referred to Chief Bob Chamberlain, vice-president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs who “said categorically and unreservedly that the United Declaration of on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples does not mean a veto. It means we need to sit down and find a way forward on consent.”
Horgan added he supported the right of those who protested across the country yesterday, however pointed out that many of the protestors were complaining about issues that don’t involve the Wet’suwet’en such as the plight of the orcas, diluted bitumen and capitalism.
“There was a was a whole bunch of discontent on display, and I absolutely respect that,” he said. “But when it comes to this project, in the north, here are First Nations who are wildly enthusiastic about the prospects this opens up for their future and I think that needs to be balanced in the coverage of the protests from yesterday.”
Forest Minister Doug Donaldson has come under fire from the Liberals for visiting the blockade on Sunday. Horgan, however, defended Donaldson, who is the MLA for the area.
“He was invited, he attended the camp,” said Horgan. “These are lifetime friends and acquaintances of his. He observed protocols, brought a gift, which is the protocol in the territory. He heard their concerns and he left.”
Listen to the entire news conference