NDP grapples with pipelines, consent, and reconciliation

Vaughn Palmer
B.C. Premier John Horgan, front, and Hereditary Chief David Mungo Knox, back left, of the Kwakiutl First Nation, help raise a replica of a Haida totem pole on the traditional territory of the Semiahmoo First Nation, at the Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday September 21, 2018. DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS

 January 14, 2019

VICTORIA — Two and a half years after John Horgan endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the New Democrats are working on legislation to translate its 46 articles into workable public policy.
The bill is expected to be tabled later this year, reporters were told last week.
But it remains a guess as to what degree it will attach specifics to the UNDRIP provision guaranteeing B.C.’s 203 First Nations “free, prior and informed consent” on land and resource development within their traditional territories.
The story so far:
Sept 22, 2016: NDP leader John Horgan, speaking to a meeting of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, endorses UNDRIP, pledging it will be in the NDP election platform and the mandates for ministers in an NDP government. “Reconciliation is not for wimps,” he adds, quoting the UBCIC’s Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.
Sept. 28: Premier Christy Clark pushes back at the Horgan pledge, saying the UNDRIP provision on consent amounts to an “absolute veto” for First Nations.
Not so, says Horgan: “Nowhere in the declaration is there any reference to vetoes of any kind.” He sounds less sure about what free, prior and informed consent does mean.
July 18, 2017: Horgan takes office as premier, pledged to “fully adopting and implementing UNDRIP.” As promised, each minister is directed to “review policies, programs and legislation to determine how to bring the principles of the UN declaration into action.”
Dec. 11: Notwithstanding opposition from First Nations, the Horgan government decides to continue building the Site C hydroelectric dam, arguing it is too far along to cancel.
Stung by what he sees as a betrayal of Horgan’s commitment to UNDRIP, Phillip pretty much accuses the premier of wimping out.
“Horgan has inflicted irreparable harm on the NDP brand in B.C.,” says the grand chief, himself a long-time party supporter. “This will go down in the annals of history as Black Monday for the NDP.”
“I am not the first person to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous people,” says an embarrassed Horgan. “But I am going to do my level best to make amends for a whole host of issues and decisions that previous governments have made to put Indigenous people in an unwinnable situation.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, centre right, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Vice President Chief Bob Chamberlin, back right, march with others opposed to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline extension at the company’s property, in Burnaby, B.C., on Saturday April 7, 2018. DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

April 19, 2018: Minister of Indigenous Relations Scott Fraser repeatedly ducks questions in the legislature about what it takes to secure First Nations consent.
Finally, B.C. Liberal MLA John Rustad zeroes in on the $40-billion LNG Canada project, which is supported by the NDP.
“You’ve got every First Nation from the upstream all the way to the coast in support of the project. But you have one nation that isn’t. Is that sufficient to stop that project from advancing? Is it required to have 100 per cent of First Nations give consent?”
Fraser’s answer is vague to the point of deliberate obfuscation.
“We want to hear all opinions, all sides, from all nations affected by projects,” he says. “That’s part of the decision-making process that we’re committed to.”
Oct. 2: Horgan announces that in the case of LNG Canada, the test for First Nations consent has been met. He cites approvals from the elected councils of all 20 First Nations affected by the project.
Elected councils, that is. Horgan was well aware that several hereditary chiefs from the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had established a protest encampment in the path of the natural gas pipeline for the project.
Jan. 10, 2019: As police begin enforcing an injunction against the encampment, Horgan reiterates his view that LNG Canada secured consent from First Nations and provided them with substantial benefits in return.
“All nations, from wellhead to water line, had signed impacts benefit agreements. We were also, of course, at that time, mindful of the challenges at the Unist’ot’en camp. But we were in dialogue, and continue to be open for dialogue, with hereditary leadership in that community.

Alex Spence, centre, who is originally from Haida Gwaii, beats a drum and sings during a march in support of pipeline protesters in northwestern British Columbia, in Vancouver, on Tuesday January 8, 2019. DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jan. 11: The premier’s insistence that elected councils can provide consent even if hereditary chiefs say “no” draws condemnation and a warning from the UBCIC.
“The premier has committed to implementing legislation on the UN declaration and now it is more important than ever that this be accelerated,” says the ever-active Phillip. “Otherwise, 2019 shall prove to truly be Battleground B.C.!”
Later that same day, NDP backbencher Jennifer Rice expresses a dim view about the role of elected councils in First Nations history.
“It’s important to know that Indigenous people have Indigenous laws that go back thousands of years,” she writes on social media. “The elected band council system is a colonial construct with the historic intention of annihilating Canada’s First Peoples.”
Jan. 14: Would John Horgan care to dispute the view that elected councils are bent on “annihilating” First Nations people? The premier, in an interview on Kamloops radio station CHNL, chooses not to go there.
“Everyone, whether you’re a member of the legislature or a member of the public, has a right to have an opinion on the consequences of decisions made 150 years ago,” he tells host Shane Woodford.
“I’m not going to tell my MLAs at any time to not think,” he says, adding that he would give Rice “full marks for grappling with tough issues.”
Speaking of grappling, I gather that inside government, the UNDRIP legislation remains a challenging work in progress. Stay tuned.
[Top photo: B.C. Premier John Horgan, front, and Hereditary Chief David Mungo Knox, back left, of the Kwakiutl First Nation, help raise a replica of a Haida totem pole on the traditional territory of the Semiahmoo First Nation, at the Douglas-Peace Arch border crossing, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday September 21, 2018. DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS]