Prior to a recent tour of British Columbia, I thought people in the province were opposed to shipping the product of Canada’s oil sands through their province. But I saw firsthand that the reality is far more complex.
The natural inclination for many Albertans is to tell the people of BC about the economic benefits of Canada’s energy. Then to remind them how these energy revenues provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fund schools, hospitals, roads and social services for generations to come. People in BC know this.
My fact-finding visit to the coasts of southern and northern British Columbia revealed there are two critical, inter-related and entirely fair concerns that must be addressed: (1) the early and meaningful engagement of First Nations people, and (2) assurance our oil spill prevention and response measures set the global standard.
On both fronts, the encouraging news is good work is being done and challenges can be overcome.
In December 2013, I brought together a diverse group of prominent Canadians — the Canadian Energy Circle — to identify and discuss the most complex and pressing energy challenges facing Canada today. These leaders, agreed a new relationship with Aboriginal Canadians is urgently needed.
When it comes to building partnerships with First Nations in British Columbia, we need only consider the success of initiatives such as the agreement between the Quebec government and the Cree Nation on mining, forestry and hydroelectric development, or the involvement of diverse stakeholders in B.C.’s Great Bear Initiative. The recently-released and widely-endorsed report from Doug Eyford on Aboriginal Canadians and energy development provides a clear path forward.
It is time to move above and beyond debating specific projects or routes, and launch a broader conversation about our ultimate shared goals.
Go from Ottawa to Alberta to British Columbia and you will hear very different views of where we are and where we are going. Who can lead the conversation that is so desperately needed? Who is the individual or organization that can bring together sometimes conflicting or competing interests to address concerns and deliver prosperity to all Canadians?
British Columbians are ready and willing to engage. Let’s seize this opportunity.