AltaGas and CCIA say collaborative works to reduce impacts on local people, but concerned First Nations deny that
Alberta’s largest Indigenous advocacy group claims that the company operating a coal-fired power plant in the province’s northeast is misrepresenting its relationship with the First Nations that are opposed to its construction.
The Alberta First Nations Engagement committee, a federal-provincial body created under the Indian Act, said in an affidavit that companies building coal plants should come up with a working relationship with First Nations that includes treaty relationships, rather than just working with them to find a reduction of impacts on local people.
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“In many ways, there is a clash between the business and the local landowner,” said Tim Shields, the chair of the committee.
“It’s very important for the Cree people to have jobs, and it’s very important for the Cree people to have, in terms of policy, the benefits that can flow from that, but they want to do it in a way that’s respectful to the interests of the area.”
The affidavit was used in an ongoing review of whether Canadian legislation covering treaty rights allows the group to sue to halt the building of the AltaGas CCS (carbon capture and storage) project at the Lac Belle Prairie coal-fired power plant.
The 34-year-old plant generates more than 30% of the province’s power. Although it has sparked considerable opposition from local First Nations, the company says it has a consultative relationship with the Cree community and that it is working with them to find a way to reduce the environmental and health impacts on local people.
During a meeting on 17 July between the committee and AltaGas executive John Dallas, he suggested that First Nations need to be mindful of “biophysical assets”, such as the land and the water. The committee, says a spokesman, was struck by the comments as they refer to the sensitive nature of both lands that are needed to operate the plant.
“It was certainly not intended to be an argument about biological resources, but it was really intended to be an argument about a cultural heritage, that the Cree people have a strong cultural heritage around those areas,” said Shields.
“And that, I think, is where the committee got really upset because the term ‘biophysical’ sort of telegraphed that AltaGas was only interested in gathering information to support the decision, rather than finding a way to work with the Cree people to try to work out an outcome that will work for them.”
The forum’s task is to determine if the 1972 constitution allows the group to sue to block the construction of the AltaGas plant and/or to approve or reject the recommendations the group submitted to the federal government.
The 2014-2015 second review will report in September to examine whether the constitution allows the group to sue to halt the construction of the AltaGas CCS project.
Roy McLeish, executive director of the Energy Reform Association of Canada, said the AltaGas plant in question is different than the current proposed Napanee, Ontario, project where a portion of the power would be exported overseas.
“So we have the advantage with Napanee of having an export plan,” said McLeish. “We don’t have an export plan on Lac Belle Prairie.”
An AltaGas spokesman said: “We believe that our working relationship with the Cree, their ability to take ownership of their land and to participate in the management of their resources and their commitment to working with us and ensuring a positive impact for the region are aspects of the current collaborative relationship and benefits both sides.”