Good morning, it’s Wendy Cox in Vancouver
Many things happened quickly after the Indigenous relations ministers for Canada and British Columbia came to an agreement late Saturday night with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the construction of a natural gas pipeline.
By Monday, construction workers were back on the pipeline site and the RCMP had returned to their regular activities patrolling the area. Both had suspended their work as a condition of the hereditary leaders while negotiations with the ministers took place.
By Tuesday, Canadian National Railway was recalling most of the 450 workers it had laid off as a result of blockades throughout Eastern Canada in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en’s opposition to the pipeline. On Tuesday night, one of the five Wet’suwet’en clans had scheduled a meeting to inform members of the agreement. Another clan will do the same on Friday, and another clan on Saturday.
But the end of a stalemate that had created a political crisis for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, commuter chaos and significant economic disruption belies the difficulties ahead.
The details of the agreement, aimed at determining how the Wet’suwet’en exercise their rights and title over their lands, are being kept confidential until all Wet’suwet’en members have had a chance to to look at it.
That has prompted concern from the chiefs of the five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils along the pipeline route. Those elected chiefs support the pipeline; the hereditary chiefs do not. The talks this weekend involved the hereditary chiefs and not those who are elected to represent the reserve lands.
"Negotiation of this agreement to date has moved forward without our Wet’suwet’en communities,” the elected chiefs wrote in a joint news release Tuesday.
“We need to be engaged in our feast hall, in our respective communities to ensure all of our clan members are heard and acknowledged.”
Chief Patricia Prince, of the Nee Tahi Buhn Indian Band, said Tuesday the hereditary chiefs have invited her community to travel to Smithers, B.C., to discuss the terms of the proposed agreement.
“I’m not sure I can load up all our members and take them there,” she said. “We need collaboration. I would like to see them (the hereditary chiefs) come to our communities and address our members.”
Critics have called for more transparency about the agreement which would prompt talks on the Wet’suwet’en’s long-standing claim of 22,000 square kilometres of northern British Columbia, but Mr. Trudeau defended keeping the details secret until Wet’suwet’en members have had a chance to ratify the deal.
Once ratified, the talks will need to sort through matters left unanswered 23 years ago after the Supreme Court of Canada concluded Wet’suwet’en title existed, but did not say where. Nothing about that will be quick: The original Delgamuukw case took two years to be heard and the Wet’suwet’en claim for title overlaps with similar claims from other Indigenous groups.
“During Delgamuukw, we were united – nobody was against it,” Wet’suwet’en house chief Ron Mitchell told reporter Nancy Macdonald, who profiled the community and the painful division that has led to the current imbroglio. “Everyone stood behind the elders, the chiefs. We need to do what we did with Delgamuukw.”
Still, those talks about rights and title won’t resolve the conflict over the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The hereditary chiefs remain opposed and a protest camp remains in place.
B.C. Premier John Horgan stated categorically Monday that the project will go ahead.
“The permits are in place, it’s approved, it’s under way,” Mr. Horgan told the B.C. Legislature on Monday. “I made that clear.”
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
AROUND THE WEST
ALBERTA SEPARATION: A panel struck by the Alberta government to study how to get a “new deal” for the province is asking residents whether they support separation. Members of the panel say they don’t intend to recommend the government pursue anything related to separation, but they say they’ve been hearing about the issue and that needs to be reflected in their work. Premier Jason Kenney has said he’s a federalist and doesn’t support separation, but critics have accused him of stoking that sentiment.
COVID-19: The wife of a Canadian who travelled to Beijing in January and died there is desperate for help from the federal government to find out whether her husband succumbed to the coronavirus. The challenge is, however, Yu Aijun can’t be sure of how her husband died until an autopsy is performed on his body and she is running into obstacles with the Chinese state and Global Affairs Canada in terms of getting one done. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, B.C. officials announced their 12th case as the number of people infected by COVID-19 in Canada continues to grow.
PARKS: Alberta’s parks are the latest victim of budget cuts, as the government moves to close or partly close 20 provincial parks and allow private businesses to operate others in an effort to save money. Alberta said it targeted facilities that are underused or generate little direct revenue. But parks are a key part of Alberta’s identity, marketing, and tourism revenue, and the government’s decision has stirred opposition. Critics argue cash should not be the only way to measure a park’s value.
SMALL BUSINESSES IN B.C.: Many mayors from the Lower Mainland and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business are rejecting the province’s ‘unworkable’ attempt to lessen taxes for small businesses that face high land assessments. The way the property-tax system works now, commercial properties are assessed based on sales of nearby properties with similar characteristics. That means a one-storey dress shop with development potential could end up with the same valuation as a 20-storey condo with retail along the bottom. The new law would put cities in the hot seat. It gives them the power to exempt certain businesses from a portion of their taxes, as long as the cities define which ones.
On Tuesday, one of Vancouver’s most respected chefs announced he would close his restaurant after 35 years because he can’t afford to keep it open.
ORPHANED WELLS: The industry-funded body responsible for cleaning up Alberta’s abandoned oil and gas wells is getting another $100-million interest-free loan from the provincial government. This brings the total taxpayer backstop of the Orphan Well Association (OWA) to $335-million. The association says the new money should help the group clean up an extra 1,000 wells on private land this year.
LIQUOR THEFTS: Edmonton police responded to 9,565 calls for theft of liquor last year, or about 26 every day, an almost 300-per-cent increase from the previous year. Retailers, like James Burns, the vice-chair and CEO of Alcanna Inc., are trying a new approach to curbing the issue: They are soliciting ideas from the public. Under the terms of the challenge, a plan that cuts liquor store thefts in half for 90 consecutive days can win $150,000, and one that reduces thefts by 80 per cent may be eligible for a $250,000 windfall.
INDIGENOUS RIGHTS: As much of the country pays attention to the Wet’suwet’en conflict, another Indigenous rights issue is brewing in B.C. The Gitxsan Nation in northwest B.C. says it will enforce its own laws, forbidding sport fisherman from accessing the Skeena River within its traditional territory, just as sport fishing season is gearing up.
OIL SANDS: MEG Energy Corp. has asked the Alberta Energy Regulator for a three-year delay in the approval process for a proposed oil sands project, because of what it called the province’s continuing difficulties. MEG cited Alberta’s economic malaise and a lack of investors in the oil sands, as well as overloaded pipelines, in a letter late last year to the AER requesting a hold on the regulator’s approval.
GRETA STICKER: An Alberta energy services company says its management accepts full responsibility for a decal the business distributed bearing its logo beneath a sexually suggestive cartoon appearing to depict Greta Thunberg. “This does not reflect the values of this company or our employees, and we deeply regret the pain we may have caused,” X-Site Energy Services said in a statement on its website Monday. Meanwhile, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist said that the decal’s existence is a sign that climate activists are winning.
ADDICTIONS TREATMENT: Alberta’s UCP government is taking a different approach from its NDP predecessor in tackling the opioid epidemic. Instead of funding supervised consumption sites, they are pledging to cover costs for 4,000 treatment spaces for Albertans over the next four years.
FACULTY DIVERSITY: Diversifying search committees and adopting self-identification surveys are just two ways the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University are trying to improve diversity among its faculty.
MANITOBA DEFICIT: Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government is projecting a lower deficit for the fiscal year that ends March 31 thanks in part to higher income-tax revenues and lower infrastructure spending. In a third-quarter fiscal update Tuesday, the government said it is forecasting a deficit of $325-million – $35 million lower than predicted in last spring’s budget.
Kelly Cryderman on Alberta’s plan to take some oil assets public: You could be forgiven for wondering where the man who has gone out of his way to praise “principled” conservatism – where one will stick by conservative tenets despite the political cost – has gone. Protecting the oil and gas industry seems to be worth this change of heart for Mr. Kenney. The Alberta Premier is making the argument this dramatic shift is necessary in the context of project cancellations like the Frontier mine, regulatory uncertainty and delays, and “a hostile policy setting from Ottawa."
Gary Mason on the Buffalo Declaration: “The Buffalo Declaration wants you to believe that there hasn’t been a province in the country more hard done by than Alberta, a jurisdiction that has been the wealthiest in the country, and one of the richest in North America, for the last 50 years. It’s just awful the way it has been treated. What’s truly bewildering is why, if this exploitation of Alberta has been going on for decades as suggested, it was less of a problem when Stephen Harper was prime minister and Ms. Rempel Garner was a member of his cabinet.”
Thomas Gunton on the shelved Teck application: “Teck realized that its price forecast of $95 a barrel used in its application was no longer valid when other agencies such as the National Energy Board are forecasting prices of $71 a barrel. In fact, Teck just wrote off $900-million in one of its operating projects due to weak oil markets. ... Hopefully Canadian governments will also recognize these structural changes in energy markets and avoid promoting high risk investments in fossil fuel infrastructure that will leave a legacy of uneconomic investments, public debt and higher emissions.”