Andrew Weaver, Leader of the British Columbia Green Party, says he is committed to a "bottom-up" approach to resource development, where communities are consulted ahead of projects proceeding – a plan he detailed on Thursday in a meeting with First Nations leaders.
For too long, Mr. Weaver said, resource developers have sought government approval before seeking support from communities.
"That's top down and guaranteed to fail. It divides communities," Mr. Weaver, sitting beside fellow Green MLA Adam Olsen, told the summit.
The First Nations Summit, a political organization representing 60 per cent of the First Nations population in B.C., is holding meetings at a Musqueam community centre in Vancouver over two days.
The Green Leader cited the planned $175-million Valemount Glacier Destination resort project to be built in the Cariboo Mountains as an example of a project that successfully secured community support, including buy-in from First Nations.
"We think we can work with the BC NDP to ensure that that bottom-up process actually happens," he said.
Mr. Weaver said everyone wants to access resources in British Columbia. "We all believe we can access those resources in a fair way if we [involve] people at the start and not after the fact and that will be our approach."
Cheryl Casimer, a member of the summit's political executive, said Mr. Weaver's commitments were "pleasing to the ear" and a compelling new approach to the issue of development that could reduce conflict. "It's better than what is happening now," she said in an interview. "It's top down."
Mr. Weaver and Mr. Olsen are not the only political leaders meeting summit members this week. NDP Leader John Horgan is to speak to the gathering on Friday. John Rustad, who has been the aboriginal relations and reconciliation minister, will speak for the BC Liberals.
The NDP and the Greens are positioning themselves to vote down the Liberals in the minority legislature that resulted from the May 9 provincial election. The summit is providing a background for presenting their position on First Nations policy.
Ms. Casimer noted there are links between the NDP and Greens on First Nations policy, referring to aspects of the governance agreement the two parties signed that includes, as a "foundational piece" of their relationship, support for the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action and the Tsilhqot'in Supreme Court decision.
With billions of dollars in development on lands subject to aboriginal land claims, the Liberal government had raised concerns that the UN declaration could threaten jobs and the economy because of the declaration's requirement that Indigenous people offer "their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them."
"We will ensure the new government reviews policies, programs and legislation to determine how to bring the principles of the declaration into action in B.C.," said the agreement, which has been signed by all 44 Green and NDP MLAs sworn in this week.
"They think along the same lines," Ms. Casimer said.
Asked in a scrum about resource policies, Mr. Weaver said there was no need to reject the liquefied natural gas industry the Liberals have sought to develop, drawing criticism over the environmental impact. "LNG said no to itself," he quipped, referring to industry troubles. He has also been dismissive of the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline.
He said First Nations won't have a veto on projects. "Veto only applies in a top-down process. When you're building bottom up, there's no such thing as veto," he said.
He said he sees potential in "bottom-up processes" in mining and forestry.
"We are there for resource development. We always have been, but it has got to be done in a bottom-up process that puts people first, that engages First Nations at the get-go," he said. "We've never been against resources."
Mr. Olsen, responding to questions from summit members about the fate of the new legislature, told the gathering that the minority government is a reality all 87 MLAs will have to deal with.
"Elections are not tools to simply get a majority. You don't keep going back to the polls until you get the majority you are looking for," Mr. Olsen said. "The people of B.C. should not be letting us off the hook. I think they should be demanding that we make this [legislature] work."