It’s going to come down to science, not job creation.
That’s the message that a group of B.C. First Nations leaders received from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) when they travelled to Ottawa and Parliament Hill to voice their opinion that the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposed LNG export terminal on Lelu Island does not have universal support from Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike in the northwest.
Whether or not the Petronas-backed, $11.4 billion project moves ahead will be entirely based on the upcoming results of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s (CEAA) report, which takes into account environmental research and science included in a report submitted to CEAA by the proponent.
The group, involving Lax Kw’alaams Hereditary Chief Don Wesley, Ken Lawson of the Gitwilgyoots Tribe of the Lax Kw’alaams, former Lax Kw’alaams Mayor Garry Reece, Union of BC Indian Chiefs President Stewart Phillip, Chief John Ridsdale of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, Richard Wright from the Gitxsan First Nation and co-chair of Friends of Wild Salmon Gerald Amos, met with senior advisors from the Prime Minister’s Office last Tuesday and another from Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s office.
“There seems to be a growing attempt to paint a pretty rosy picture in the northwest coast here that everything’s hunky-dory and there’s no opposition,” said Amos last week.
“In First Nations communities and non-First Nations communities, there’s a lot of people whose concerns we share with this particular project.”
No CEAA officials were present at the leaders’ meetings, reported Amos.
The largely-held concern is the potentially negative impact to juvenile salmon and salmon-spawning habitat, located at Flora Bank, adjacent to Lelu Island, the location of the proposed terminal.
“I think [the meetings] went well … I think the message was delivered pretty clearly from both Yahaan (Wesley) and from others from Lax Kw’alaams, but also from upriver First Nations that made it very clear that the CEAA process really isn’t addressing their needs; it doesn’t allow for all the voices in the community to be heard,” Amos continued.
Chief Wesley added that the group reminded the PMO that they will be holding the federal government accountable to the environmental rhetoric that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was relaying to the area about major projects.
“We told them that we’re holding him to his word on issues like gas emissions and reducing that for the environment,” said Wesley.
That’s reportedly when the advisors told the group that the environment was very top-of-mind for the decision-making process.
“They told us, based on how many people have been going back [to Ottawa] and lobbying, such as [B.C. Premier] Christy Clark, it’s going to come down to the science of what we’re talking about. That’s the message that we got. It didn’t matter how many times Christy’s been up there, making her push for job creations and all that – it’s not relevant to the science,” Wesley said.
The delegation also refutes the letter sent by current Lax Kw’alaams Mayor John Helin to CEAA, giving the band’s support on a couple conditions, saying Mayor Helin didn’t consult with the hereditary chiefs or the community. Helin could not be immediately reached for comment.
“There hasn’t been a public forum since the election. We haven’t had a public forum on anything that’s been going on so I can’t really comment on what he’s doing, but he’s written that letter and we had to counter it,” Wesley added.
While the CEAA report stated that no significant adverse effects to wild fish would come from the project, multiple scientists have rejected the report, citing an alleged misrepresentation of the importance of the area to salmon, a lack of information equating to a lack of risk and a disregard for science that was not funded by the proponent.
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen and North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice have both suggested that a Ridley Island location may be more adequate in mitigating any potential harm to the area.
When asked if Ridley Island may be more suitable, Chief Wesley stated that “it’s going to boil down to the science”.
“If the scientists say it’s not adequate to build in that area then we go with what the scientists say,” he said.
Chief Wesley also addressed the recent letter from the Prince Rupert Port Authority telling those occupying Lelu Island to cease building any structures and halt all construction.
“We’re going to be looking at, in some point in the future, building a cultural centre [there] … We’re looking at a couple options. [The youth cultural and heritage program, Rediscovery International Foundation] was one of them and the other thing is that because of the fragile ecosystem of Flora Bank, it’s going to be used partly as a research centre because we do have universities that are interested in coming to look at it already this past fall,” he said.
“We respect the right of any individual or group to express their opinions concerning port development if it is done in a safe and peaceful manner. However raising makeshift structures does not meet that definition and has not been authorized,” port president and CEO Don Krusel said in early April.
The press release sent out by the port on April 11 also states that the port has the authority to allow occupation and construction on the island as the administrator of federal crown lands on Lelu.
This has been challenged by the occupiers who state that the hereditary chiefs of Lelu Island (Hereditary Chief Yahaan Don Wesley and Gwishawaal Ken Lawson of the Gitwilgyoots Tribe of the Lax Kw’alaams) have the right to allow activity on Lelu because Lelu Island is part of the area they are responsible for in Lax Kw’alaams.