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British Columbia Western newsletter: First Nation ownership of Trans Mountain could dramatically change the debate — and the opposition

Good morning, it’s James Keller.

The debate about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is often presented in fairly simple terms. On one side is the oil industry (including, until recently, the former owner Kinder Morgan), Alberta and the federal government. On the other stands B.C.'s Premier, environmentalists and, crucially, First Nations, whose legal and political opposition are seen as major factors in stalling the project.

But the reality has always been far more complex. More than three dozen First Nations along the pipeline route have already signed benefit agreements related to the project. First Nation leaders such as Chief Ernie Crey of B.C.'s Cheam First Nation and Chief Roy Fox of Alberta’s Blood Tribe have emerged as vocal supporters. And now more than 130 First Nations communities in Alberta and British Columbia – largely bands that are already invested in resources such as oil and gas – are debating whether to purchase an ownership stake in the pipeline.

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First Nations ownership in the pipeline would sharpen divisions among Indigenous leaders about the pipeline and resource development. It would also raise the prospect of First Nation leaders who are opposed to the project aiming their legal challenges, protests and blockades against other Indigenous leaders. And it could transform how we think about consultation and consent about this project and any other with First Nations support.

The idea of buying into the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is still in its infancy. A meeting this week outside Calgary that focused in part in the pipeline ended without any solid proposal to put in an offer or any real specifics about what that might look like. And it also produced new doubts about whether it is even feasible, with Chief Roy Fox of Alberta’s Blood Tribe, himself an avid supporter of the oil and gas industry, warning that federal environmental legislation could kill the whole idea before it gets off the ground.

Among the big questions: how would a group of First Nation buyers pay for a share of the pipeline? It would require billions of dollars that First Nations don’t have. Reporter Justin Giovannetti looked at the possible options, and how previous attempts to purchase resource infrastructure might provide some guidance.

Columnist Gary Mason argues that the debate within First Nations communities has been entirely miscast. More Indigenous communities appear to support the pipeline than oppose it, he writes, and that’s something environmentalists and even First Nations opponents may soon need to confront: “Once upon a time, aboriginal leaders in Canada were afraid to speak out in favour of resource development for fear of being stigmatized and branded some sort of Indigenous Uncle Tom. But that construct is now as outdated as the birch bark on which it was written. More and more First Nations leaders, elected by their communities to help lift them out of destitution and distress, see resource development as a good thing.”

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:

KIDS IN CARE: The over-representation of Indigenous kids in government care is a problem all province’s grapple with. In Manitoba, it’s particularly acute: Fully 354 infants were removed from their families in Manitoba in 2017, 87 per cent of them First Nations; and 259 remained in care 12 months later, putting them on the fast-track for permanent wardship. Telling these stories is difficult because privacy laws prevent any discussion by authorities about individual cases. Readers had a wrenching window into the trauma of a mother losing her child this week when video surfaced of a mother losing custody of her newborn.

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Nancy Macdonald, who will be probing the issue of kids in government care this year, reported this week that a deal to return the child to family was in the works, but as of Friday, there had been no change. Cindy Blackstock, an Indigenous child advocate in Winnipeg, wrote an opinion piece noting there is no need to search for a better way: Solutions have been known for decades, governments just have to act.

BURNABY SOUTH BY-ELECTION: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has spent almost 16 months leading his party from outside the House of Commons, so the long-awaited call for a by-election in the Burnaby seat the party has long hoped would be his chance was a welcome relief. It was a chance to put some bad press behind the young leader, including as recently as last weekend, as Western columnist Gary Mason wrote this week. But if Mr. Singh’s political career has been bumpy of late, his main opponent in the by-election has had a worse time of it. Liberal Karen Wang withdrew from the race this week after media reports of a Chinese language post in her name in which she referred to herself as the “only Chinese candidate” and noted Mr. Singh is “of Indian descent.” The Liberals accepted her resignation and said the party would seek another candidate. A day later, Ms. Wang asked to be reinstated. She was refused.

CLIMATE CHANGE: New data from the Insurance Bureau of Canada offers a stark picture of the impact of climate change. The figures show payouts for catastrophic losses jumped from an average $405-million a year between 1983 and 2008 to a yearly average of $1.8-billion since 2009, with flooding accounting for more than half of the increase. The Globe’s Calgary-based environment reporter Jeff Lewis wrote about the figures, pointing out that Canadian cities such as Edmonton, Calgary and Fredericton are having to take significant measures to brace for the floods that will be coming.

CANNABIS: CBD is a cannabis compound that doesn’t get users high and it has been touted by retailers in the health-care industry as a panacea for everything from muscle aches to sleep problems. Even serious researchers have been looking into the claims to determine whether CBD can provide health benefits. But as Mike Hager and Christina Pellegrini report, the craze around the product often misses an important point: The compound is just as highly regulated as cannabis. Producing it without a licence is a crime and many people don’t know that.

ART GALLERY:The vision for a new gallery for contemporary and modern art in Calgary is one step closer with the announcement this week that an architect has been chosen. Marsha Lederman reports KPMB Architects of Toronto and Calgary-based Gibbs Gage Architects, have been selected to reinvent the city’s former planetarium. KPMB’s award-winning partner Bruce Kuwabara will lead the design. Mr. Kuwabara’s ideas will be available for public consideration in the spring.

Opinion:

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Globe editorial on the Liberal candidate in Burnaby South: “Karen Wang won’t be the MP for Burnaby South, but she has done her country a public service. Her appeal – vote for me because I look like you, and the other guy doesn’t – is nothing new in politics. The backlash against it is. That’s progress. And it represents Canada.”

Gary Mason on British Columbia’s speculation tax: “Without question, this is the stupidest thing that the NDP has done since gaining power. It’s even worse than its terribly bungled effort to bring in a form of proportional representation, a plan that went up in flames because of a deeply flawed rollout. But the speculation tax redefines inept.”

Merle Alexander, Leah George, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Val Napoleon, Doug White, Naiomi Metalics on the demotion of Jody Wilson Raybould: “The cabinet shuffle doesn’t say much about Ms. Wilson-Raybould – it speaks to the state of the government, its priorities, and how it functions. Over the past number of months, Ms. Wilson-Raybould gave a series of speeches bluntly calling out the government’s failures on the reconciliation front – a timely recognition that the current gap between the Trudeau government’s rhetoric on relations of Indigenous peoples and the reality of their actions was too great.”

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