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Wording of Enbridge equity agreement draws criticism
Conditions set in an equity agreement an alleged 60 per cent of Aboriginal groups along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route have signed with Enbridge are being called “aggressive.”
Last month, Greenpeace Canada used the Access to Information Act to obtain documents through the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada between Enbridge Inc. and Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada. In the 34-page Meeting scenario note for deputy minister dated Sept. 21, 2011, one of the “key approaches” outlined is that “participating groups may raise legitimate, specific concerns via (the Joint Review Panel) process, but cannot proactively oppose project.”
Enbridge’s newest agreement is “a bit of a shock,” says Eriel Deranger, spokesperson for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam.
“It’s the way they’ve worded it in their new agreement, very direct,” said Deranger. “It all sort of falls in line with this more aggressive approach …. It’s like industry is being proactive and creating roadblocks before there’s even an ability to respond or to react to it.”
The equity agreement, says Melina Laboucan-Massimo, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, means First Nations cannot speak to media or take part in public protests against the project. Even signing the Save the Fraser Declaration would be a contravention.
“(Enbridge) basically wants (First Nations) to specifically state a concern. So it’s very much different from opposing to stating a concern at the Joint Review Panel,” she said.
Deranger points out that the new agreement is an equity agreement, which is also something different.
Agreements in the past, which are common in northern Alberta and which the ACFN has signed, have been impact benefit agreements, which include financial compensation, among other advantages for First Nations. IBAs also limit the criticism that can be voiced by First Nations, as the agreements state that criticism from the First Nation regarding a specific project can make the IBA null and void.
Deranger says that often times First Nations take corporations up on impact benefit agreements because they feel the project will go ahead despite the First Nations’ concerns. If the development occurs, the First Nation would rather see economic benefits come to their people than to see all advantages pass them by.
Deranger is concerned that Enbridge is trying to stifle the voice of First Nations by claiming those who have not signed the equity agreement are in the minority. The equity agreement provides 10 per cent share on the $5.5 billion project that sees 1,172 km of dual oil and condensate pipeline laid from north of Edmonton to Kitimat, along with the construction of a marine terminal and employment of tankers.
Enbridge refuses to identify the Aboriginal groups that have signed and that goes against another of the “key features” noted in the document to the deputy minister which states the company “has unrestricted right to disclose that groups have taken commercial interest.”
Publicizing which First Nations have signed an agreement is common practise, said Laboucan-Massimo. “A lot of times what they’ll do in the tar sands is say these First Nations have signed on so we’ve done our consultation. But with this now because they’ve seen such a backlash like with the Gitsxan First Nation… they’re saying, ‘No, we can’t contractually say which First Nations.’ But the thing is, within their original equity offer they said they would have unrestricted rights to disclose these groups. So it’s a bit of a contradiction.”
Shortly after launching an advertising campaign in British Columbia last month, Enbridge announced that 60 per cent of the 43 First Nations and Métis groups within an 80 km radius of the proposed route had signed the company’s equity agreement. Enbridge claimed there was an equal amount of signatories in BC and Alberta.
“That’s making a lot of First Nations very suspect,” said Laboucan-Massimo.
She says Coastal First Nations contacted their members from the BC northern interior to the coast to determine who had signed on with Enbridge. Only two First Nations said they had.
Laboucan-Massimo has spoken to a number of Alberta First Nations along the pipeline route and none have said they have taken Enbridge up on the agreement.
However, she says, First Nations who have signed on may be hesitant to make that public because of the Gitsxan First Nation backlash. Gitsxan’s own members protested the signing, which has lead to the Gitxsan Treaty Society claiming an agreement with Enbridge was never signed. Enbridge officials dispute that claim.
First Nations are also concerned that Enbridge has expanded its equity agreement to include Aboriginal groups, that would not directly be impacted by a pipeline rupture or oil tanker mishap, or Métis groups that do not own land.
“That just shows the lack of respect for the traditional territories of these First Nations,” said Laboucan-Massimo.
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