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Speech to the Assembly of First Nations' Forum on Energy: Setting Priorities - The First Nations Role in Canada's Energy Future
February 10, 2016
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources
Speech to the Assembly of First Nations’ Forum on Energy: Setting Priorities — The First Nations Role in Canada’s Energy Future
Well, thank you, not only for that generous introduction, but for the time we spent when we sat together yesterday — time spent over the last two days learning from the Chiefs, learning from community, learning about inclusion and balance and diversity. And to your National Chief: I know that I didn't write your speech, but I think you wrote mine, and I think that's going to become very clear over the next few minutes.
It's wonderful to be here in Vancouver with you.
The sense of occasion is not lost on me as we open this forum on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish people. And yesterday was a perfect day in Vancouver. It was absolutely as good as it can get anywhere. And for a Winnipeger, who is now looking at the thermometer at -22°C when I arrive home today, I'm grateful for the break. But it reminded me, as I was walking the streets yesterday, of that perfect day last November in Ottawa when I was sworn in to the Cabinet.
The highlight of the ceremony was seeing Jody Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai, sworn in as Canada's first Indigenous Justice Minister. I felt like an entire country was in tears. I can tell you I had tears in my eyes as I watched her take the oath of office. Why? Because I'm old enough to remember when Jody's father, Bill, first told the nation in 1983 to watch out for her. It happened during a nationally televised constitutional conference on First Nation issues.
Sitting across from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Chief Wilson explained that his two daughters dreamed of becoming lawyers — and Prime Minister. Some people chuckled. An Indigenous woman Prime Minister? Prime Minister Trudeau simply smiled and promised to stick around until they were ready.
Thirty-three years later, I believe history has come full circle, that I am standing here where Minister Wilson-Raybould would have stood many times when she was presiding as a regional chief. And I'm honoured. Honoured to serve with her and to serve in another Trudeau government, committed to renewing Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples. So, it should come as no surprise that I've chosen a gathering like this to deliver a key speech as Minister of Natural Resources.
My presence here reflects what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said many times: that no relationship is more important to our government than the one with Indigenous peoples. That's why we have started consultations toward a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. That's why we will implement the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, led by my fellow Manitoban and friend, Mr. Justice Murray Sinclair.
My mandate letter from the Prime Minister spells this out very clearly. It is time for a renewed nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership. My message is that this renewed relationship has enormous implications for developing our nation's abundant energy resources. Not just because there is a constitutional duty to consult, which there is. But because it represents real opportunity — an opportunity to make real on the promise of Indigenous peoples as full economic partners in the development of our natural resources.
And that means jobs — good jobs, sustainable jobs, prosperous businesses, Indigenous businesses. This new approach is important across the country, but particularly here on the West Coast, where generational opportunities are emerging in the energy sector. This is where centuries of Indigenous culture and wisdom can ensure that economic prosperity and environmental performance go hand in hand, where we can incorporate the Indigenous practice of weighing what we do today against how it will affect the survival of the seven generations.
It's what that famous French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, said a very long time ago: “The fruits of the Earth belong to all, and the Earth to no one.”
Prime Minister Trudeau echoed that thought when he was in Paris for the COP21 climate change conference — National Chief, you were there — and the opportunity for Indigenous thinking I think was very much a part of the international gathering. “Indigenous people,” he said, and I'm quoting you now, National Chief, “have known for thousands of years how to care for our planet. The rest of us have a lot to learn and no time to waste.”
I told you, I think you wrote my speech. I agree.
That's why we will be modernizing the National Energy Board, so that its composition reflects regional views and has deep expertise in Indigenous traditional knowledge. And that is why I am spending a lot of precious time as Minister of Natural Resources reaching out to Indigenous leaders across the country. And that's why I've been bringing Indigenous industry and environmental leaders together in the same room to discuss common issues and common objectives in Winnipeg, in Halifax and, just this week, in Vancouver.
One First Nations Chief from Northern Manitoba told me after the Winnipeg meetings that it was the first time she had spoken to anyone in the Government of Canada in almost a decade. We will not go back to those days. Instead, we need to strengthen relationships across all regions and all interests, to realize the opportunities in our resources sectors. This forum is a great place to continue this work.
It goes without saying that the past 18 months have been tough for some of our energy producers. Oil prices haven't been this low in more than a decade. Natural gas prices aren't far behind, and they have led to difficult decisions on capital spending and even more difficult decisions on personnel.
Behind each energy project cancelled or delayed, there are people who have borne the brunt and who face uncertain futures. But I'm an optimist. I believe there are things we can do now, and in the long term, to weather some storms, to take advantage of emerging possibilities and to realize a brighter future — a future built on innovation and adapting to changing times by finding greener ways to extract and develop our fossil fuels and get them to markets, at home and abroad.
And at the same time, by investing in clean technology and clean infrastructure, by making greater use of renewable sources of energy and by placing greater importance on energy efficiency, a future where Canada is a low-carbon energy leader, where we engage Canadians on how to generate the energy we need while preserving the planet we cherish.
We will ensure our resource sectors remain a source of jobs, prosperity and opportunity, and we will do so in a world that values sustainable practices and in a manner that respects Indigenous rights and enables Indigenous peoples to participate. But how do we get there? I'm convinced that the only way is with you, with your wisdom and with your support.
It's already happening here in British Columbia. This room is filled with examples where Indigenous leaders are creating opportunity and protecting the environment. For example, the First Nations LNG Alliance. And search and rescue training, in collaboration with the Canadian Coast Guard, for North Coast First Nations. And, employment, training and education plans so Indigenous community members can access jobs and resource development. Targeted fish habitat restoration projects and environmental stewardship and monitoring initiatives with Indigenous peoples across British Columbia. This model for partnership and collaboration works — and it's one I'm committed to making work wherever I go.
I talked about it with the American and Mexican Secretaries of Energy when we met at the International Energy Agency ministerial meetings in Paris, and we will revisit it tomorrow when the three of us meet again in Winnipeg.
We've made meaningful Indigenous engagement a cornerstone of our new interim approach for assessing major resource projects already in the review process. Canadians understand the importance of natural resources to our economy. They know that resource development creates jobs and spurs investments, and they realize that energy plays a vital role in their daily lives. But too many Canadians have lost faith in the way we assess major resource projects.
So, it's time for us to have an open discussion about our environmental assessment system, driven by climate change imperatives, enabled by world-renowned science and technology and reflective of the diverse perspectives of the Canadian people. As the Prime Minister often says, “we are strong because of our diversity, not in spite of it.” But a more robust system of environmental assessments is going to involve a lot of work, extensive engagement and considerable debate.
That's why we announced a transition process last month that features two important principles relevant to discussions here. First, that Indigenous peoples will be meaningfully consulted and their rights and interests accommodated. And second, that decisions will be based on science and evidence and that evidence includes traditional Indigenous knowledge.
Two essential principles, one common theme to restore trust in how we develop our natural wealth sustainably and responsibly. We've opened the door for a new way of doing things, and I want to invite you in. I'm asking you to seize this opportunity to change the language on resource development, to strive for consensus. We'll never get everybody saying the same thing; it's not realistic to expect unanimity. But we can develop a process that carries the confidence of the Canadian people.
We have enough time to review major projects such as the Trans Mountain expansion and the Energy East pipeline. So let's work more closely together. Let's build the relationships that will serve as the foundation for more knowledge sharing. If we take the power of industry, show respect for the land and water, and acknowledge the essential role of Indigenous peoples, we can be an example not just to the world but to ourselves.
This is a very important time in our country's history. This is our moment. This is our time. This is our opportunity. Let's seize it together. Thank you.
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