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Canada AFN head Perry Bellegarde calls Trans Mountain ‘very divisive,’ urges premiers to plan lower carbon economy

An Indigenous stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline won’t end the continuing national debate about whether an expansion of the project should proceed, says Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, who described the project to expand the pipeline as divisive.

After a daylong meeting with most of Canada’s premiers at the Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan, Mr. Bellegarde said that groups which hold title along the pipeline’s path from Edmonton to Vancouver should determine whether a proposed expansion is built.

“Canadians are divided, premiers are divided, chiefs are divided. I’d encourage dialogue, discussion, debate and that the rights and titleholders determine the best next steps,” Mr. Bellegarde told reporters.

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As Canada’s premiers meet in Saskatoon over the next two days at the Council of the Federation, the national chief said that along with talk on pipelines they need to present a plan for a faster transition to a lower carbon economy.

“It’s very, very divisive,” he said of the Trans Mountain pipeline. “I think on a national and international stage, people just need to see the process and plan to transition to clean energy. I think that’s the message going forward internationally."

A number of Indigenous groups from across Western Canada have come forward with proposals to buy a portion of the now federally owned pipeline. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet approved the expansion of Trans Mountain in June, citing the economic impact of a larger pipeline. The project would triple capacity on the pipeline and has stoked hopes in the oil patch that the export of more oil to Asia could fetch a higher price for Alberta’s bitumen. Oil prices in Alberta have been kept low in recent years by a lack of export capacity.

Ottawa’s decision to reapprove the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has revived opposition from Indigenous groups in B.C. Earlier on Tuesday, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, which was the main Indigenous plaintiff in a lawsuit that blocked the project, and several other First Nations filed a fresh lawsuit against the project.

They argue a new round of consultations with First Nations communities was biased because the federal government now owns the pipeline.

A new Nanos poll conducted for The Globe and Mail suggests broad support among the public for Ottawa’s decision to reapprove the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Nationally, 68 per cent of respondents said they either support or somewhat support the decision, while 27 per cent were opposed. That support was the highest in the Prairies, where 84 per cent of respondents were in support, but there was also clear support in British Columbia (61 per cent) and Quebec (56 per cent), where provincial governments have opposed new oil pipelines.

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Nanos conducted the hybrid telephone and online survey of 1,000 people between June 29 and July 4. The survey has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, although the margin of error would be higher for regional breakdowns.

The AFN has stayed away from annual first ministers’ meetings in recent years, however Mr. Bellegarde said he attended Tuesday’s meeting, in part because it was the first large gathering of premiers on a First Nation. The Big River First Nation, about 200 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, is near Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s hometown and riding of Rosthern-Shellbrook. The First Nation is about a 15-minute drive along a gravel road from the nearest village – most of the nine premiers who attended the meeting arrived by helicopter.

Mr. Bellegarde also presented the premiers with statistics on child poverty that show half of Indigenous children live in poverty – more than 2½ times the national rate. That figure is the same as it was a decade ago, indicating the problem has not improved.

Mr. Bellegarde used the study, written by researchers at the AFN and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, to underscore the need for governments to invest in First Nations communities.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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