Canada’s federal energy regulator names Indigenous advisory committee

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OTTAWA — Canada’s energy regulator has named a new advisory committee that aims to change how it interacts with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

The Indigenous advisory committee, which includes eight First Nations and Metis individuals from across Canada, is part of legislation the Liberals brought in last year to impose new rules for environmental assessments.

The committee will not deal with specific projects or regulatory decision-making or provide advice on individual projects that go before the regulator for approval.

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Instead it will provide more high-level insight on ways the agency can strengthen its relationships with Indigenous Peoples and better reflect Indigenous knowledge and culture in the way it regulates projects, said Cassie Doyle, chair of the Canada Energy Regulator’s board of directors.

“We see the advisory committee as being a core part of the governance structure of the Canada Energy Regulator and will provide strategic advice to the board with the primary goal of advancing reconciliation,” she said.

The role of the board of directors differs from that of commissioners, who are responsible for actual assessment and regulation of pipeline and transmission line projects in Canada. The board of directors, which this new committee will advise, provides more strategic policy direction for the agency as a whole.

Processes are already in place for Indigenous input and consultation on specific projects that take into account local and regional concerns, Doyle said. Indigenous advisory and monitoring committees have been created, for example, for the TransMountain pipeline expansion and Enbridge Line 3 replacement projects.

Rather than duplicating this work, this new committee will have a more national focus, and will influence overall how the regulator works with Indigenous communities.

“This is to provide a more wholesale — how do we shift the whole institution and the way our relationships are playing out with Indigenous people at the national level?” Doyle said.

The committee could, for example, give recommendations on the management of work camps operated by energy companies, she explained.

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There have been concerns in recent months about possible outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in camps located near First Nations communities.

“I can see the advisory committee providing advice across all (the ways) the energy regulator works with regulated companies around work camps, as opposed to getting into the details of any individual work camp in any individual province.”

Opposition to many major resource development projects by Indigenous groups and communities have proven major stumbling blocks for energy companies trying to get approval from regulators and courts for projects near or on traditional lands.

Melanie Debassige, who sits on the regulator’s board and has over 20 years of experience in Indigenous economic development, said the agency hopes this new advisory group can help integrate the interests and concerns of Indigenous Peoples into its core strategy.

She said that could create more awareness of potential opposition at the earliest stages of proposed projects.

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“Before there was no processes in place to (ask) what does this Indigenous community look like? How do they want to be approached? What type of ceremonial approaches do we have to take if a project is to be approved, what would they like to see?” Debassige said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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