For the past few years, it has seemed precipitously difficult to accommodate the interests of aboriginal rights and claims with Canada's economic imperative to build facilities to export its energy resources.
A promising exception may help break the logjam, specifically in a liquefied natural gas project in northwestern British Columbia. The offer by the Pacific NorthWest LNG joint venture would pay to the Lax Kw'alaams community $1-billion, in very round numbers, spread over 40 years, out of a total investment of $11-billion – for a rough average of $320,000 per person. The band has 3,600 members. The B.C. government is offering $100-million worth in Crown land.
The lead partner in the project is the Malaysian state-owned energy company Petronas. TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline is also part of the whole plan.
At times, Premier Christy Clark and the Liberal government of B.C. have seemed overexcited about LNG and the revenues it hopes for from its convoluted LNG tax policy. But for the time being, this vast LNG project seems to be going ahead, after many false starts over the years.
This month, there will be six information meetings of the 3,600 members of Lax Kw'alaams, two each in Prince Rupert, Lax Kw'alaams Village and Vancouver. At the end of the presentations of the proposals, the members will express their general approval or disapproval by a show of hands.
The emerging agreement appears to be based partly on an aboriginal title in favour of Lax Kw'alaams, though there has been no court judgment establishing it. But if there is no costly litigation, so much the better.
None of this brings any assurance for the completion of Northern Gateway pipeline project of Enbridge Inc. and the Trans Mountain project of Kinder Morgan, each of which has its own challenges and complications. But Pacific NorthWest LNG's proposal at least offers some sort of precedent. And Lax Kw'alaams' willingness to consider quite specific terms is helpful, too.