Haisla Chief Councillor Ellis Ross said the visit by natural resources minister Joe Oliver was definitely a kind of “getting to know each other” meeting, but some longstanding Haisla issues were including in the conversations.
“The number one issue we have with the federal government right now is their initiative to turn the Douglas Channel into a public port,” said Ross. We don’t agree with that, in fact the Haisla have been working for the last five or six years on studying the rationale for this to be a private port.”
While he understands the federal government’s role in terms of shipping traffic, he believes it should be “the people on the ground” running the port, not the government.
While he doesn’t think the Haisla themselves would have a hand in running it, they have capable partners who could, he said.
“This all goes back to the Haisla wanting to be part of the decision making that affects rights and title,” he said. “We’re looking at the Douglas Channel in general, and mainly what we’re looking at is Haisla territory.”
He adds, “We can be specific about what the Haisla want to see in terms of traffic coming into Douglas Channel.”
Additionally, Ross believes way too much attention has been paid to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines proposal and that all levels of government need to move on to more achievable goals.
“There seems to be a lot of effort, a lot of anxiety about Enbridge’s project to get crude oil to Asia, but there doesn’t seem to be that amount of interest in getting natural gas to Asia from the federal government,” he said.
Ross notes the approval of a number of export permits already for the region.
“There’s just so much momentum now for the natural gas industry.”
He said more effort made to natural gas exports will be more beneficial to the area and to the country at large.
“I think the Enbridge proposal has been mishandled from day one. So why keep beating a dead horse? Lets get the things we can get done right now.”
The potential is there in this channel to ship so much more as well, including minerals and pellets, said Ross.
All that being said though, he’s feeling good about the Haisla’s relationship with the federal government these days. They’re being more inclusive, and to Oliver’s credit, said Ross, he didn’t spend much time talking about Enbridge either.
“I think Joe Oliver’s trip down here…really opened his eyes to the potential we have here,” he said. “I think we’re taking small steps in the right direction in terms of the relationship with the federal government.”
Ross adds that the federal government has been spending more time looking at the area and gathering information and generally “taking it a lot slower than they were.”