APTN National News
The co-chair of the National Energy Board’s (NEB) modernization review panel says there is a lot of work to do toward building trust with Canadians and especially with Indigenous groups.
“There are perceptions of the NEB being too tightly aligned with industry,” said Gary Merasty, former grand chief of the Prince Albert Grand Council and former Liberal MP. “Certainly we’re hearing from across the country that we (NEB) require much more early and meaningful early supported capacity and involvement. There’s lots of work needed to do.”
Merasty is one of two Indigenous members of the panel that was set up by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr after the NEB seemed to have lost the publics trust and was criticized in the courts for not properly consulting First Nation and Métis communities over pipeline projects.
The other Indigenous member, Wendy Grand-John, from the Musqueam First Nation did not make herself available for an interview.
Merasty, who is from the Peter Ballantyne First Nation and is currently President and CEO of Des Nedhe Development, said he can relate to the various opinions of the NEB.
“Sometimes I get accused of you’re too friendly with Indigenous people, or too friendly with industry, and for me, ultimately I do care about these issues. I care about where and how Indigenous people are involved,” he said.
The NEB’s modernization review panel is touring the country seeking public input into how to reform its operations.
According to the NEB’s website, the panel is looking at the following areas. governance and structure, mandate and future opportunities, decision making roles including for major projects, compliance, enforcement and ongoing monitoring, engagement with Indigenous peoples and public participation.
Engaging Indigenous groups is a high priority for the NEB and listed it as a key focus of its modernization.
But he stressed that what they’re doing is not considered consultation.
“These Indigenous engagement sessions, they’re not consultation sessions,” said Merasty, who explained there’s a lot of confusion around the panel’s role. “We’re seeking advice and looking for recommendations on how to make things better.”
The NEB Act was established in 1959 and since then there hasn’t been any substantial changes, said Merasty. A lot has changed over the 60 year period including Indigenous rights, greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy and its role in the global economy.
“The reception across the country has been really good. There’s lots of passion on this issue around pipeline regulation, power transmission regulation, energy information and data. It’s been very respectful dialogue but very passionate. With a huge interest in how best to position Canada’s energy regulator in a modern world.”
Climate and the environment were at the forefront of concerns brought forward by Indigenous groups to the review panel in Edmonton on March 8 and 9.
Indigenous representatives from BC, Alberta, the NWT and Saskatchewan were given 15 minutes each to share their views on how to improve NEB processes.
General Counsel for the Gwichin Tribal Council, NWT said the NEB’s current and formalistic approach is not working. David Wright said the Gwichin are living on the frontlines of climate change and the NEB needs to understand its enormity before it’s too late.
“Recent data suggests that an increase in Arctic temperatures is some seven degrees,” said Wright. “Much higher than the two degree global level that’s deemed to be dangerous…this is an issue of justice that can’t be ignored.”
Making sure to ensure environmental protection during planning, construction, operation and abandonment of energy projects also lies within the NEB’s oversight.
Don Rain, Industry Relations at Paul First Nation west of Edmonton said cumulative environmental effects need to be considered in NEB policy making.
“The land has a voice and nobody is listening!” said Rain. “We are here to be that voice. We recognize the impacts of industrial and human activity. We need to have First Nations monitoring involved at every stage from beginning to end. Our livelihood is all encompassing.”
The NEB requires a more stringent, robust and transparent reporting process, he added while suggesting that the NEB operates with corporate interests in mind.
“The energy industry consumes at whatever cost. The corporate world is far removed from reality. Want to know what’s going on on the ground?
Drink from our water-when the oil sheen is shining we’ll see how they’re (industry’s) impacted.”
The Nak’azdli Whutien in BC live on unceded territory and their culture is tied to the land and water ways. They’re familiar with seeing the effects of the oil industry in their backyards expressed community technician Ginger Gibson. They feel like they’re running out of space to practice traditional lifestyles.
Logging, mining and pipeline projects are already scattered throughout their territories.
Previous consultations with the NEB have been greatly disappointing for them.
“Consultation has been like knocking our house down then asking how we are impacted by it,” said Gibson.
The Yathi Nene, a community of 5,000 people adjacent to the Alberta oil sands also live off of the land. Dependant on caribou, wildlife and fish they wonder if their concerns will be taken seriously.
“We don’t have the luxury of going to Walmart,” said Diane Mcdonald of the Yathi Nene Lands and Resource Office. “Our food source comes from the environment and we want to make sure the environment is protected.”
The Metis also want a say. With a membership of over 32,000 the Metis Nation of Alberta said they’re sick of being left out.
“Generally the federal government has favoured First Nations and Inuit over Metis,” said Nick Boroque on behalf of the Metis Nation of Alberta. “We understand that there’s going to be challenges in government in negotiations in relation to that. But we are continually left out of consultations. We would like to have a seat at the table to present our policy on the duty to consult and how we see it and how we need to be engaged.”
Incorporating traditional knowledge, addressing free, prior and informed consent and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was also a common discussion topic.
So far the review panel has visited 10 communities and will travel to three more before handing in its recommendations to the government on May 15.