CALGARY — Ottawa’s haste to get an oil pipeline to the Pacific built ended up being a project’s undoing. The federal Court of Appeal’s quashing of the Northern Gateway pipeline’s approval exposed the slipshod approach the former Conservative government took with rules of consultation with First Nations.
Now, for the Liberals and the energy sector, there are lingering risks for future pipelines and other resource projects that go beyond what the court used to strike down the Northern Gateway decision.
They boil down to a fundamental question – what must consultation achieve? Yes, aboriginal groups have rights to be informed and accommodated, but it remains to be seen how much power an opponent who refuses to be swayed ultimately has over a project’s go or no-go ruling.
This is important stuff. At stake are billions of dollars’ worth of pipeline proposals that the industry and its supporters stress are crucial to the economic well-being of the sector as well as producing provinces such as Alberta and the country as a whole.
The phrase nation-building is bandied about frequently by backers of such projects. They warn that energy investors are starting to turn their backs on Canada, fearing that no major infrastructure can get built. Many First Nations, though, are just as adamant about protecting fragile traditional lands, waterways and culture against the onslaught of industry.
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