The chief of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, Gary Reece, announced on Thursday morning that that his nation will be boycotting the National Energy Board hearings on the Enbridge pipeline.
Reece calls the whole process “a sham,” and that his people have already made their views on the project at the anti-Enbridge protest in Prince Rupert over a week ago.
“We are not in favour of [Enbridge], we are totally against it. And we will do anything in our power that it doesn’t happen; to keep them from coming into out territory. Our people have spoken loud and clear,” says Reece at a small press conference in Prince Rupert.
Over the past several weeks, the Harper Government has criticized environmental groups and other pipeline opponents for receiving funding from groups in the US, framing it as a case of foreign interference in a Canadian matter. The Conservatives have also called opponents “radicals” who are hijacking the regulatory process to further their own agenda.
Reece says that this kind of rhetoric coming from a sitting has undermined the impartiality of the process and that the Tories have already decided what the conclusion of the National Energy Board process will be. The hearings are deeply flawed, says Reece, and Lax Kw’alaams wants nothing to do with them.
“The government has already made it clear that they support Enbridge and the pipeline coming into our territory. So to me, it seems very flawed and we’re not going to take part in them,” says Reece.
But Stephen Harper doesn’t sit on the National Energy Board, and the point of an arms-length regulatory body is to prevent undue political influence from swaying its decisions. Doesn’t matter says Reece.
“To me the National Energy Board is part of the government . . . When the government makes a decision and you’re working for the government, you take direction from the government.
Lax Kw’alaams has a lot to lose if there was ever a spill as the community relies heavily on fishing to support itself. Reece says they have already a taste of what could happen when the Queen of the North Sank and the resulting chemicals from the wreck made abalone unfit to eat. During meetings with the company in the community, Reece says that the company wasn’t able to address their concerns.
“If [a spill] ever happens, then what are we going to be left with? One of the questions we asked to Enbridge was: how are you going to compensate my people if there’s ever an oil spill? The couldn’t answer that,” says Reece.
Although Lax Kw’alaams may be not participating, the other large First Nation in the Prince Rupert area is. Metlakatla intends to plan to make a lengthy presentation at the Rupert energy board hearings, which will be the first of the meetings to allow oral evidence to be given by organizations registered as interveners.
Reece wouldn’t go as far as to say that Metlakatla is making a mistake by taking part in in the hearings, but says its their decision but Lax Kw’alaams sees the process as too flawed.
For the company’s part, representatives for Enbridge say that they respect Reece’s decision but otherwise have no comment.