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British Columbia B.C. legislation would redefine framework on first nations projects

Douglas Channel, the proposed shipping route for oil tanker ships in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, is pictured in an aerial view just south of Kitimat, B.C., on Tuesday January 10, 2012. City councillors in Prince Rupert, B.C., are the latest to officially oppose the Enbridge Inc.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government is prepared to roll out proposed legislation on Thursday to define the ground rules for the construction of major economic projects on federal reserve lands – including a proposed liquefied natural gas plant that is key to Premier Christy Clark's job plan.

The law would establish a regulatory framework to ensure provincial laws are followed on major first nations' projects. It is expected to address specific projects including the Haisla First Nation's joint venture with LNG Partners of Texas.

Ms. Clark is bullish on LNG – natural gas that has been cooled to liquid form – as a potential new industry in B.C., and the Haisla are on track to be at the forefront.

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But the legislation also offers the first concrete evidence of Ms. Clark's determination to move ahead with a different approach to the land question and first nations in B.C.

Abandoning a decade-long push for treaties, Ms. Clark has called for a new path, saying the treaty process has failed to deliver economic growth for aboriginal communities or security for business investors.

The Haisla's LNG project, if it moves forward, could double as a cornerstone of Ms. Clark's new relationship with first nations.

The Premier visited the north coast community last October to endorse the Haisla's partnership. "It will be a proof point for investors that you can do business in British Columbia and you can get business done quickly and efficiently," Ms. Clark said in an interview last November.

She also said at that time that she wants to pursue economic development rather than direct more energy into a treaty process that has yielded few successes. "Lots of first nations are fed up with waiting for economic development. And frankly so am I," she said.

Treaty settlements have long been regarded as the means to permanently remove uncertainty over land and resources from B.C.'s business climate.

Two major economic initiatives in B.C. are facing significant opposition from first nations: the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, and the Prosperity mine project. In both cases, the lack of treaty settlements across most of the province's Crown lands hangs over the approval process, with first nations threatening to turn to the courts if they are not adequately consulted.

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But the proposed LNG project in Kitimat has proceeded in a way that shows first nations can be part of economic growth.

The LNG plant requires completion of a pipeline that has won support from 15 first nations, including the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. With funding from the province, the bands have acquired a stake in the pipeline project.

Government officials from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation are scheduled to provide a technical briefing on the legislation on Thursday morning, paving the way for legislation in the afternoon. The briefing will deal with "proposed changes pertaining to the regulation of significant economic development projects on federal Indian Reserve Land."

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