On December 5, 2013, the Minister of Natural Resources released the final report of Mr. Doug Eyford, Special Federal Representative on West Coast Energy Infrastructure. Mr. Eyford was appointed by the federal government to identify approaches that could meet Canada’s goals of expanding energy markets and increasing Aboriginal participation in the economy. In particular, Mr. Eyford was asked to identify Aboriginal interests in and opportunities related to the development of West Coast energy projects such as oil pipelines, natural gas pipelines and LNG terminals.

Mr. Eyford’s final report, Forging Partnerships, Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development (PDF), was a product of eight months of discussions with Aboriginal communities and other organizations, industry, and provincial and local governments in British Columbia and Alberta. It is a must read for anyone involved in the intersection of energy and Aboriginal issues.

Letter to the Prime Minister

Mr. Eyford’s report was addressed directly to the Prime Minister, highlighting the significance of his task.  

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr. Eyford made four “key observations”:

  • Canada and Aboriginal communities need to build effective relationships and this is best achieved through sustained engagement;
  • Aboriginal communities view natural resource development as linked to a broader reconciliation agenda;
  • Aboriginal communities will consider supporting natural resource development if it is undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner; and
  • The [West Coast infrastructure projects] would contribute to improving the socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal communities.

Mr. Eyford went on to indicate that, in his opinion, progress requires leadership, commitment, and action by governments, Aboriginal communities, and industry and expressed his optimism that collaborative efforts by each of the parties can advance their respective interests.

The Report

Mr. Eyford expanded on his observations in the body of his report and made twenty-nine recommendations under four major themes: Building Trust; Fostering Inclusion; Advancing Reconciliation; and Taking Action.

Mr. Eyford described these themes as follows:

“Building Trust identifies the efforts needed to establish constructive dialogue about energy development, to demonstrate commitment to environmental sustainability, and to enhance understanding of and participation in pipeline and marine safety.

Fostering Inclusion proposes focused efforts to realize Aboriginal employment and business opportunities, to establish collaborations among Aboriginal communities that allow for better outcomes, and to facilitate the financial participation of Aboriginal communities in energy projects.

Advancing Reconciliation recommends targeted efforts to build effective relationships including refinements to Canada’s current approach to consultation and engagement, to explore mutually beneficial initiatives that support reconciliation, and to encourage Aboriginal communities to resolve shared territory issues.

Taking Action recommends the establishment of a Crown-First Nations tripartite energy working group to create an open and sustained dialogue and action on energy projects. I have also identified a need for Canada to build its internal capacity and to adopt an integrated approach to address Aboriginal interests in relation to west coast energy projects.”

While almost all of Mr. Eyford’s recommendations are directed at the federal government, the focus of many of these recommendations is joint action and dialogue with Aboriginal groups, other governments, industry and other participants. A consolidated list of Mr. Eyford’s recommendations can be found at Appendix C of his report.

The Minister’s Response

In the News Release releasing the report, the Minister did not comment directly on any of Mr. Eyford’s recommendations. However, the Minister did indicate, “This report from the Special Federal Representative is a solid basis for sustained engagement on responsible resource development with Aboriginal Peoples in British Columbia and Alberta. Our government will thoroughly review the recommendations before making any decisions on next steps.”

Minister Oliver went on to state that, “The themes of the Eyford report — trust, inclusion, reconciliation and action — can guide all parties in building further the relationships that will underpin responsible resource development and the participation of Aboriginal Peoples. We will now engage on the report with Aboriginal Peoples, as well as provinces and industry, and identify the most promising avenues for meaningful follow up.”

Conclusion

As highlighted in the report itself, Mr. Eyford’s report comes at a critical juncture in both the relationship between governments and Aboriginal Canadians, and also in the development of west coast energy infrastructure. It will be interesting to watch how Mr. Eyford’s report and recommendations contribute to the dialogue on these issues in the weeks and months to come. It will also be interesting to see what impact that Mr. Eyford’s report and recommendations will have on energy projects that have to this point primarily been considered provincial in nature. As indicated, Mr. Eyford was retained by and primarily directed his report at the federal government. However, he appears to have anticipated that its impacts could be broader in his closing words: “Although this report is being delivered to the Government of Canada, it is my hope that it will be viewed by interested parties as an objective assessment of the current environment, and that the proposed recommendations will be accepted as a constructive starting point.”