Premier John Horgan says he and the NDP government are fully committed to resolving the issue of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction.
The matter has come to fore following a Supreme Court injunction issued late last year allowing the company to continue building the natural gas pipeline from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, through Wet’suwet’en territory south of Houston. The NDP government position is that since courts have ruled in favour of the project, the rule of law will apply to ensure work continues on the Coastal GasLink pipeline,
Horgan, and several cabinet ministers, spent the last five days in northern B.C. but did not meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
At a news conference in Prince George Tuesday, Horgan said the NDP government has been meeting regularly with the Wet’suwet’en leadership. Last year Horgan spent a day with the Wet’suwet’en leadership, which led to a subsequent half-day meeting with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en.
“Since that time we’ve been having almost weekly meetings, government to government, with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the hereditary leadership to find a way forward on a range of issues,” Horgan said. “To suggest that I and my government have not been available is not the case.”
Horgan says the hereditary chiefs declined a phone call from him this week, so he has sent a letter to the chiefs to try and set up meeting between the chiefs and Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, hopefully as early as today.
The northern tour came about through an invitation, in July, from Fort St. James to attend the Winter Classic hockey tournament.
“We built the tour around a visit to Fort St. James and we knew we were going to come to a final decision on the business plan for the (Fort St. James) hospital so the focus of the trip was to be with Mayor (Bev) Playfair and her community to celebrate that uniquely Canadian thing of being outdoors watching a game that everyone’s passionate about,” Horgan said.
It was also to make sure Horgan could meet with people in Kitimat and Terrace and meetings were also set up in Fraser Lake, Vanderhoof, Quesnel and finally the Mayor’s Roundtable in Prince George on Tuesday.
“The Wet’suwet’en and Smithers were never part of the tour,” said Horgan. “It wasn’t until the injunction decision on New Year’s Eve that the issue of Coastal GasLink and the Wet’suwet’en re-emerged … (On Monday, January 13) there was a request that I attend meetings in Wet’suwet’en territory and I just wasn’t able to do that. It’s not that I haven’t done that.”
He said the day-long session with the chiefs, which was also attended by Forests Minister Doug Donaldson was productive and informative, Horgan said.
“It was a very full and comprehensive day where I learned a good deal about some of the challenges, not just with respect to the pipeline, but looking at the historic decision of the Supreme Court with respect to the Delgamuukw case brought forward by the Gitxsan and the Wet’suwet’en.”
That meeting led to another half-day session with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en.
However, Horgan also pointed out that other Indigenous groups across the North are supportive of the pipeline.
“The vast majority of indigenous people across the North are supportive of LNG Canada and they’re supportive of the prosperity that will flow from that project,” Horgan said. “I met with Councillor Crystal Smith of the Haisla nation and she is extremely excited about the potential of prosperity to relieve what has been systemic poverty in her community and that has been duplicated along the corridor. I respect the position of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders but we have to look at the whole picture and we have to make sure that we all act in a civilized and respectful manner towards each other and I’m confident that peaceful resolution is not far away.”