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By John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson)
As federal and provincial environment ministers meet in Ottawa today, one vital but unspoken item on the agenda is whether First Nations and other indigenous Canadians now have a blanket right to veto developments to which they object on Crown land.
The Supreme Court has been edging for years toward granting such a right. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper stoutly resisted. But the Liberals are vowing to adopt a new, nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations. If they are serious they will acknowledge that veto. And then the question will be: what, if anything, can get done on Crown land? And at what cost?
“The right of free, prior and informed consent is crucial to us, as self-determining peoples,” Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, has said, echoing an evolving international debate on human rights and indigenous peoples. To opponents, another word for “free, prior and informed consent” is “veto.”
The Supreme Court has mandated that governments have a duty to consult First Nations on projects impacting lands that they consider part of their traditional territory. Whatever the legal obligation, native leaders have demonstrated time after time that any effort to build major infrastructure on such land against their wishes is doomed to fail.
The new, interim guidelines for environmental reviews of proposed energy projects, which Environment Minister Catherine McKenna announced Wednesday, state those reviews must involve consultations with First Nations on a “nation-to-nation basis,” rooted in principles of “rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.”
Those guidelines, then, further entrench the rights of indigenous Canadians to influence resource extraction, such as forestry and mining, and transportation, such as pipelines. They bring us even closer to a First Nations veto on resource development. Indeed, that veto may already exist. If so, what then does consent mean? How is it obtained?
Getting this right could make the difference between successful and inclusive resource developments in the future and objection, obstruction and opportunities lost.
Getting this right could determine the future wealth or poverty of Canadians everywhere.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING
By Chris Hannay (@channay)
> The Liberal government’s new assessment rules will delay the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipelines by additional months.
> A United Nations report detailing human rights violations by Saudi Arabia in a bombing campaign in Yemen is ramping up pressure in Britain to block arms sales to the Saudis, and renewing similar calls in Canada.
> Speaking of that: Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has denounced the operation of male-only campuses by Ontario colleges in Saudi Arabia, but is mum on what she thinks of the arms deal. (for subscribers)
> Defence and political critics say the Liberals are loosening Canada’s controls on foreign investment, after the federal government declined to do national security reviews of two recent corporate takeovers by U.S. companies.
> Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc will appear before the House procedural committee today to outline some of the government’s parliamentary reforms. (Not that MPs have shown any sign of less heckling.)
> And a think tank is urging Canada to get closer to Mexico, as the countries’ foreign ministers prepare for a trilateral meeting with the U.S. on Friday. “You have to be realistic that there are only marginal gains to be made in the bilateral relationship with the United States in the final year of the Obama administration,” Fen Hampson, director of the Global Security and Politics program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, told The Globe’s Campbell Clark.
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WHAT EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT
“The hurdles imposed by the former Conservative government are surmountable, but it will take time and impose costs. This damages our national interests, even more so since Canada already lags most of its European allies in re-engaging with Iran. Canada will thus lose ground in its efforts to gain access to the Iranian market.” – Thomas Juneau on resuming diplomatic ties with Iran.
Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail): “What the Liberals do want is directed spending on home care. Here, the federal-provincial negotiations will be fascinating and perhaps consequential for patients.” (for subscribers)
Yves Boisvert (Globe and Mail): “Why is it that when the opposition [to Energy East] comes from Quebec, it is seen to be un-Canadian?”
Chantal Hébert (Toronto Star): “It is hard to imagine that the federal government would bow to provincial opposition to a pipeline at the Pacific end of the country only to turn around and force an equally unpopular a project on the Atlantic side.”
Jen Gerson (National Post): “Every dollar pinched from a child in need becomes hundreds of dollars later spent on a neglected adult. Given the rapid demographic growth of First Nations communities and the particular hardship faced by so many, this is an area Canada, quite literally, cannot afford to continue messing up.”
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