Even as the federal Natural Resources Minister announced new outreach to First Nations on energy projects, he was confronted by a First Nations leader who told him developing consensus will not be easy.
Invited guest Garry Reece, chief of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, told Greg Rickford during a news conference in Prince Rupert on Tuesday that his community would not support heavy-oil projects such as the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
"My people have stood up against oil. They don't support that. They're not satisfied with information there's going to be protection on that and, to this day, they still haven't changed from that," Mr. Reece said.
"I don't think the door is going to be open with that, not the way my people have made statements on that."
At the same time, he said his people would be willing to discuss support for liquified natural gas development if environmental protections were strong enough.
Still, he gave Mr. Rickford marks for trying, saying talks with the federal and provincial government are a good idea. "We really need that," he said.
Mr. Rickford was there to announce the creation of a Major Projects Management Office West to co-ordinate activities on energy infrastructure development with B.C. First Nations and industry in British Columbia and Alberta.
He also announced a tripartite forum to allow the federal and B.C. governments and First Nations leaders to share information, identify common interests and work together on issues affecting First Nations participation in energy infrastructure development on the West Coast.
All of this comes as the federal cabinet prepares to announce, likely by mid-June, whether it will approve the controversial $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline, which would funnel Alberta oil sands crude to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asian markets.
A National Energy Board review panel last December recommended approving the project with about 200 conditions.
Asked by reporters about Mr. Reece's statement, the minister told the news conference he had his work cut out for him.
"I think it's an opportunity," Mr. Rickford said. "I heard him loud and clear."
He said the debate over pipelines is larger than just the Northern Gateway project, and that the programs announced on Tuesday reflected that reality.
The plan "is to ensure that beyond any specific pipeline, First Nations communities, people of particular regions, feel confident that the government is advancing important steps that are focused on pipelines as a general matter."
The minister, appointed in March by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to replace Joe Oliver, described the plan as a "confidence– and trust-building exercise" drawn from recommendations in the report last fall by Douglas Eyford, assigned by the federal government to consult First Nations on the Gateway project.
"We're not interested in layering another bureaucratic dimension to this. We want to address specific issues and specific opportunities and move forward," Mr. Rickford said.
"We want to and we need to ensure that First Nations will be full participants in resource development so they can become fully integrated into both the economic and important environmental aspects of projects."
He provided the slightest of insights into the cabinet review of Gateway.
"The National Energy Board's report is obviously under careful consideration by cabinet right now. It includes 209 conditions, and we'll be in a position to respond to that in fairly soon timelines," he told reporters.