Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault has returned from the COP26 summit full of enthusiasm and big plans. As a former Greenpeace activist, Guilbeault surely enjoyed his week in Glasgow rubbing shoulders with the world’s top environmental virtue signallers. Feeling invigorated, he is doubtless eager to act soon in cracking down on the petrochemical industry that he has so long abhorred.
Guilbeault stated on Twitter on Nov. 12: “Indigenous peoples have been stewards of this planet since time immemorial. The fight against climate change is not possible without their knowledge and leadership. Any agreement on a path forward must protect the rights of Indigenous peoples. Full stop.”
A bold proclamation indeed, but does he really mean it?
What if Guilbeault’s plans to phase out Canada’s oil and gas sector clash with the rights of indigenous peoples? Do Canada’s indigenous citizens have the right to pursue prosperity for themselves through the development of natural resources on their traditional lands?
The petrochemical sector is one of the top employers of indigenous people. While indigenous people make up 3.3 percent of Canada’s workforce overall, they take a 7.4 percent share of the country’s oil and gas workers. Will Guilbeault take those tens of thousands of jobs into consideration as he pursues policies with the intent of shutting down the oil and gas sector?
Canada’s petrochemical industry has forged some solid and mutually beneficial relationships with many First Nations. In 2019, the oilsands industry spent $2.4 billion in procurement from indigenous businesses. These partnerships and business relationships have been bringing numerous indigenous communities closer to financial independence in the last decade than a century of government programs have. Will the rights of the owners of those indigenous businesses be protected from Guilbeault’s climate crusade?
Indigenous people hold a close relationship with their environment and consider themselves to be stewards of their land. This doesn’t mean that all indigenous people are in opposition to natural resource development. Resources can be developed responsibly, and the energy sector has partnered with indigenous populations in order to ensure that. Will Guilbeault respect the knowledge and leadership of indigenous people who support responsible oil and gas development?
Canada’s indigenous people have long been taken advantage of by environmental activists. Indigenous rights are often used as a rationale when protesting against development, but urban environmentalists rarely actually dedicate time to consulting the indigenous people they claim to speak for.
There is no monolithic view held by indigenous people for or against petrochemical development. It is insulting to assume that diversity of thought and opinion doesn’t exist among the indigenous population. Many environmental activists maintain a wrongheaded notion that indigenous people oppose all modern development and want to live in some sort of subsistence-based lifestyle on isolated reserves. But, like anyone else, indigenous people have ambition and want to enjoy the comforts and opportunities that modern resource development provides. One will never find universal consensus among a community on an issue such as local resource development. The will of the majority in the region needs to be determined and respected.
It has been repugnant watching environmental activists using a small minority of indigenous opponents as a means to block progress on the Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. Energy companies spent years negotiating agreements and partnerships with every single First Nations band impacted by the development. Thousands of indigenous citizens have been benefiting from the construction of the gas line as well as the LNG terminal in Kitimat that it will be feeding. Indigenous communities have been divided as environmental activists try to use traditional hereditary chiefs as a tool to overrule the will of the majority of indigenous citizens in the area. Activists pay lip service to the concept of consultation with indigenous people while only recognizing the views of the minority of their preference.
Indigenous views vary regionally as well. Mohawks from Ontario should have no more say in the development of B.C. resources than Haida members in B.C. should have on the lobster fishery in Nova Scotia. Seeking the wisdom and leadership of indigenous people when modelling policies is a good principle, but it is no simple task.
Steven Guilbeault has made no secret of his intent to shut down Canada’s oil and gas sector. In 2001, he illegally scaled Toronto’s CN Tower and hung a banner to make that point. While he claims that the protection of the rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples must be considered paramount when setting his path to fighting climate change, it is hard to believe. Clearly, Guilbault’s intent to shut down the petrochemical sector is going to clash with the rights of thousands of indigenous people who are invested in and dependent on the industry.
When the inevitable conflict comes between Guilbeault’s environmental ideology and the rights of indigenous people, which side will he take? I suspect that his proclaimed concerns for indigenous rights will suddenly be forgotten.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.