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B.C. Pulls About-Face After First Nations Call Removal of Gas Development Environmental Assessment a ‘Declaration of War’

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak has reversed and apologized for excluding First Nations from two amendments that would eliminate the province’s mandatory environmental assessment of gas developments and ski resorts.

As DeSmog Canada recently reported, the Orders in Council were passed without public consultation and would exclude major natural gas processing facilities and resorts from undergoing a standard environmental review and public consultation process.

“The rescindment is a direct result of backlash from the Fort Nelson First Nation (FNFN)," Anna Johnston, staff counsel with West Coast Environmental Law Association, told DeSmog Canada. "Yesterday, at an LNG Summit hosted by the FNFN, they ‘drummed out’ government representatives due to the provincial government’s failure to consult with them on the Orders.”

B.C. officials were escorted from the forum on liquefied natural gas (LNG) after news of the eliminated environment assessments broke. At the forum, called “Striking a Balance,” Chief Sharleen Gale of the FNFN asked B.C. government officials to leave the room, saying “what I learned from my elders is you treat people kind. You treat people with respect…even when they’re stabbing you in the back.”

“So I respectfully ask government to please remove yourself from the room. We’re going to ask industry to stay.”

A video of the expulsion can be seen below.

The provincial government has been undergoing “serious environmental deregulation,” said Johnston, pointing to Bill 4, the Park Amendment Act, as further evidence.

“Their rescinding the Orders indicates that the Minister of Environment has heard the message loud and clear that the government cannot continue to sneak through changes to environmental laws that will significantly impact British Columbians without first consulting them,” Johnston told DeSmog Canada.

“Public participation is essential to responsible environmental decision-making, including the process of making the laws that protect our environment and our communities. Hopefully, the government has learned that next time, it must properly consult stakeholders, environmental groups and First Nations before attempting any further changes to our environmental safety net.”  

Yesterday Chief Terry Teegee of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council told West Coast Native News First Nations were “blindsided” by the changes. “There was no consultation as far as changing that policy.”

An executive with the First Nations Summit, Cheryl Casmier, said the revisions were “another unacceptable example of government once again attempting to water down and minimize its consultation and accommodation obligations with our communities.”

First Nations expressed concern decisions that would impact land use were being made without proper consultation.

Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told West Coast Native News, “in a stunningly stupid move, the province has effectively declared war on all B.C. First Nations and jeopardized all LNG discussions throughout the entire province of B.C.”

Minister Polak made this statement in a B.C. government press release:

“I would like to acknowledge First Nations concerns about amendments to the Reviewable Projects Regulation under the Environmental Assessment Act. Our government apologizes for failing to discuss the amendment with First Nations prior to its approval.

Our government is committed to a strong, respectful and productive relationship with First Nations. That is why we will rescind the amendment that would have removed the requirement for an environmental assessment for sweet gas facilities and destination resorts, until we have undertaken discussions with First Nations. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has been made aware of this decision, and respects the need for our government to have further discussions with First Nations.

Our government sees a significant value in continuing to develop a Government to Government relationship with all First Nations. We remain actively engaged with First Nations in northeastern British Columbia, including shared decision making that respects the environment, First Nation values, and Treaty 8 and its associated rights.”

Image Credit: Jeremy S. Williams, Wilderness Committee

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