Revealed: Alberta’s Ploy To Break First Nations’ Pipeline Opposition
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice on the election campaign trail at an oil well site near Three Hills, Alberta, April 13, 2015. Photograph: TODD KOROL/REUTERS
The Alberta government escalated its campaign to build tar sands pipelines under Premier Jim Prentice by seeking to have First Nations become full-blown proponents of the projects in return for oil revenues.
Documents obtained by the Guardian show that under a proposed agreement the province would have funded a task force of Alberta First Nations and government officials to “work jointly on removing bottlenecks and enabling the construction of pipelines to tide-water in the east and west coasts.”
The push was part of a broader diplomatic offensive launched by Progressive Conservative Premier Jim Prentice after he came to power in late 2014, making approval of pipelines his highest priority. Prentice is currently struggling to win re-election.
First Nations have been at the forefront of a growing movement that has delayed the construction of pipelines that would carry Alberta’s controversial tar sands to international markets, raising fears among politicians and investors that the crude will remain landlocked.
The agreement, drafts of which were seen by the Guardian, would have committed Alberta First Nations to conduct regular briefings with TransCanada, Enbridge and Kinder Morgan and to reach out to other First Nations in British Columbia and elsewhere to identify ways of getting their support for pipelines.
In exchange, they would be granted a share of oil royalties and opportunities to become investors or owners of oil enterprises or projects.
Discussions were handled by Joe Dion, an aboriginal oil businessman close to the Progressive Conservative party, who shuttled between Premier Prentice and Alberta’s First Nations.
“I’ve been talking to Jim Prentice about getting an agreement to work with all First Nations to get access to tidewater. I discussed it with him after he got elected. We did drafts, which have been sent to the Premier,” he said. “[Prentice] would like to get it going. He needs First Nations support to get access to the west coast, for the Keystone XL pipeline, for the Energy East pipeline.”
The agreement would also have committed Alberta First Nations to “urge others engaged in litigation against Alberta to withdraw their legal challenges.”
Several First Nations are legally challenging the Alberta government’s management and rapid development of the tar sands, one of the world’s most polluting fuel sources.
These include the Athabasca Fort Chipewyan and the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, who have a case before the courts alleging wide-scale violations of their aboriginal and treaty rights.
At a conference of right-wing politicians and activists in Ottawa last month, Prentice told reporters “there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes and I think we are further along than we ever have been” in winning First Nations support.
A draft agreement was first presented to First Nations leaders in the fall of 2014, and in March Alberta’s Associate Minister of Aboriginal Relations met with them to finalize the task force that would work on the pact.
Sources say that resistance from one or two Chiefs derailed the agreement at the meeting, but Dion says he’s hopeful it can still get signed this summer.
As the price of oil has plummeted, Alberta’s reliance on the tar sands has resulted in tens of thousands of job losses and a massive hit to government revenue.
A recent poll showed that 86 percent of Albertans believe the economy is too dependent on oil and gas, while 71 per cent think that oil companies should pay higher royalties.
Alberta has Canada’s greatest potential for renewable solar power, and solar panels could alone cover Alberta’s annual electrical energy needs.
Last week the world’s leading scientists and economists released a statementrepeating that 75% of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground if humanity is to avoid catastrophic levels of global warming.
Initially slated to easily win office in elections on May 5, Premier Prentice has fallen behind in polls to the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) and Wildrose Party.
He provoked public anger when his pre-election budget raised fees for government services and froze public sector salaries while rejecting any increase to corporate taxes.
Before becoming Premier, Prentice worked as an envoy for Enbridge trying to win First Nations over to the Northern Gateway pipeline that would cross British Columbia to the Pacific Coast. As Premier, he was serving simultaneously as Minister of Aboriginal Relations.
NDP leader Rachel Notley has said she would reject the Northern Gateway because of “environmental sensitivity,” and end any further lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., for the Keystone XL pipeline. She wants to see more refining and upgrading of crude oil in Alberta instead of its export internationally, and would also support alternative energy.
Notley called Prentice’s decision to delay a climate change strategy until after the elections, after he initially promised it for last December, “profoundly irresponsible.”
The Premier’s office did not return requests for comment.