Forget Alberta, we had our own dramatic vote here in B.C.
By Bill Phillips
While most of the country was agog with the historic vote in Alberta, another equally dramatic and economically far-reaching, vote was held right here in B.C.Last week about 180 members of the Lax Kw’alaams band voted, by all accounts unanimously, against accepting a $1 billion compensation package for a proposed liquefied natural gas plant in their territory on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert. The deal, which would have seen the $1 billion paid out over 40 years, was proposed by Pacific Northwest LNG, primarily owned by Malaysia-based Petronas.
Band members expressed concerns over the possible environmental impact of the plant, which would be located at the mouth of the Skeena River.
It should be pointed out that the band’s voting is not yet complete, as about 3,700 off-reserve members will be voting this week. But, the unanimity of those who have voted thus far, will likely sway those yet to vote.
It is truly a significant step in resource development in British Columbia. And there is a certain amount of irony.
When Premier Christy Clark was trying to find a way to scuttle the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline without actually saying ‘no,’ she devised the five conditions necessary for all pipeline proposals in B.C.
Number four on that list demands that “legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy oil project.”
I suppose Pacific Northwest LNG could argue that simply making the $1 billion offer meets the condition that First Nations are “provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate and benefit.” It doesn’t say the “opportunity” has to be accepted, but that’s a different story.
Certainly in light of the Tsilqot’in decision last year, meeting the legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights remains a stumbling block.
Clark’s five conditions were drafted in response to a proposal to ship bitumen. Since then the province has been betting the farm on a burgeoning LNG industry, although talk of eliminating the provincial debt and following Alberta’s lead with a prosperity fund aren’t front-and-centre anymore. All of those LNG projects need pipelines.
The irony will be if conditions set to make life miserable for bitumen shippers becomes an insurmountable obstacle for LNG proponents.
Given that the band vote is not yet complete, Pacific Northwest LNG has not yet commented. The question, of course, is whether the band can actually scuttle the project or force it to locate elsewhere.
The other amazing thing about the vote is that an elected government turned down such an offer. I’ve covered municipal councils and regional districts for 30 years. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a city council or regional district board that would reject a $1 billion proposal. In fact, most of the politicians I’ve encountered over the years would be salivating profusely if someone dangled $1 billion in front of them.
It’s refreshing, although likely chilling for some, to see that there may be politicians in B.C. for whom community has more value than money.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second.