- originaly posted 14 December 2012
- Financial Post
- By Claudia Cattaneo
The wakeup call: Corporate interests need to accept what the courts already have — that First Nations now hold the balance of power in deciding the fate of Canada’s resource projects because they have rights that others don’t
Canada is orchestrating a big push to accelerate development of its natural resources, but behind the hype there is a shifting and tense legal landscape. First Nations are on a big winning streak in the courts that has empowered them to have a say on projects in big parts of the country.
The tension is pushing corporations to spend huge dollars to keep the peace and move projects along in areas First Nations claim as their traditional lands.
But the approach is piecemeal and there have been few consistently successful strategies. Tension, frustration and confrontation abound. Lawyers, consultants and vested interests fuel and feed off the tension, making it hard to come up with solutions.
Many projects worth billions of dollars have been delayed or sunk altogether.
They include scores of mining, forestry and pipeline projects such as the now-shelved Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline in the Northwest Territories. The Northern Gateway pipeline could be next unless accommodation is found with opposed First Nations in the B.C. interior and on the coast.
Bill Gallagher, a former federal government regulator, oil and gas lawyer, treaty negotiator, and author of a new book, Resource Rulers, Fortune And Folly on Canada’s Road to Resources, argues there is a better way.
“The current situation in terms of access to resources, with the overarching tensions, has become unsustainable,” Mr. Gallagher said in an interview. “That is the key to the whole thing. Recognizing that Plan A has not worked; let’s put a Plan B together.”
The good news: Canadian First Nations are not opposed to development.