Canada runs the risk of polarizing First Nations when it comes to economic strategy, cautions the head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
“First Nations communities are playing such a leadership role in energy projects, in mining projects, in the economy in Canada today and that involvement is getting stronger,” Tim McMillan told an Edmonton Chamber of Commerce crowd Wednesday. “I think we run a risk in Canada of polarizing First Nations involvement in the economy in a way that could be unhelpful for reconciliation. That economic opportunity is key to reconciliation. Right now, I think we’re running a risk as a nation of seeing that going backwards.”
McMillan’s comments follow weeks of national unrest, with demonstrations and protests in opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia.
McMillan said business leaders and companies have to make it clear that Canada’s success is tied to First Nations involvement.
Anti-blockade bill not a surprise
This week Premier Jason Kenney introduced a bill that would crack down on any disruptions to what the government considers critical infrastructure such as railways, highways and pipelines.
McMillan said the province has a responsibility to maintain critical infrastructure.
“The federal government has said to the provinces, you are responsible for the policing and to ensure this happens,” he said. “For the province to take the forward step to say, ‘You know, we take on this responsibility and will be very clear and transparent with all parties.’ No one should be surprised and I think by putting that bill forward, it really sends a message to everyone.”
Teck added to long list of cancelled projects
This week also saw the cancellation of Teck Resources Frontier oilsands mine for a multitude of reasons, including market conditions, climate change and opposition.
McMillan said Teck is following a familiar pattern.
“I don’t think (Teck) is a cautionary tale, I think it’s part of a long string of cancelled projects,” he said. “We’ve seen Northern Gateway cancelled after it had been approved; we saw Energy East cancelled before it got (approval). This creates a very challenging environment for global investors to look at Canada and say, ‘How would we invest in a country or a project after we see these sorts of failures?’ ”
McMillan noted the energy sector isn’t the only sector under attack, as opponents have also protested forestry and agricultural projects. He believes those efforts are co-ordinated.
“The tar sand campaign is something that’s still on the website of several of those organizations that explicitly target Canada, the energy sector in particular,” he said. “Forestry has gone through it and it’s the same groups. Some of them have changed their names.”
McMillan added the past two months have been hard for Canada’s economy — also noting the impacts the novel coronavirus has had — but he says he continues to feel optimistic.