Prentice takes on task of bridging First Nations, oil pipelines divide

An ex-federal Indian Affairs minister will take on the task of opening up dialogue between First Nations and the Northern Gateway proposal.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal has the weight of a former federal minister of Indian Affairs Northern Development to rekindle conversations with First Nations.

It was announced on March 5 that Jim Prentice, currently the vice chairman of the CIBC bank, would work on establishing First Nations relationships for the pipeline company.

Prentice is not, however, being employed by Northern Gateway and is not being given additional pay for his work.

“There’s no understanding between our bank and the Gateway partners on the business part of this. The bank has made me available because they are supportive of this initiative. They believe the project is a great opportunity for First Nations and for the country and they’ve made my time available,” Prentice told the Sentinel.

Prentice says his first order of business is simply to listen to the perspectives of First Nations along the corridor and on the coast.

“I don’t come with a deadline. My timeline is the timeline of First Nations to talk about this and find solutions,” he said.

Those concerns are certain to include environmental issues and the management of the B.C. coastline.

“I’m optimistic,” he said about his thoughts from here. “It’s a big job, I understand that.”

The executive director of Coastal First Nations, Art Sterritt, meanwhile thinks Prentice’s new task will not bear fruits.

“I think it’s a last gasp by Enbridge,” he said. “He’s getting on board a project and trying to promote something that First Nations in this province are not going to agree with.”

Sterritt thinks Prentice coming onboard now is too late, and thinks if his involvement was to be at all beneficial he should have been involved eight years ago.

Sterritt does say his group will talk to Prentice, but there will be no movement unless there is some sort of amazing game-changing technology for oil spill clean up.

The Sentinel reached out to Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross however he turned down the opportunity to comment on Prentice’s role.

Prentice said he hasn’t worked directly with the Haisla before this role.

Despite the critics saying now is too little, too late, Prentice said he’s drawing on his experience to maintain his optimism, noting past projects he’s worked on where opinion was it was too late to create First Nations partnerships but that later proved false.

“It’s never too late to talk with people. It’s never too late to hear what people’s concerns are, it’s never too late to get to the table and try to make changes that are responsive to what First Nations are saying,” he said.

He says this project represents enormous economic potential.

“It’s important to Canada, but moreover it’s important to the First Nation communities and the aboriginal communities along the corridor and at the coast. This is one of the biggest economic opportunities on the continent, actually, and First Nations are presented with opportunities for the creation of jobs and employment opportunities for young people, investment opportunities. These are really significant economic drivers that are being presented here.”

– Files from Anna Killen, Terrace Standard