CPABC Industry Update Summer 2014 - Page 23

W hen a resource company and a First Nation announced in July that they had formed a partnership to build a liquefied natural gas plant on Aboriginal land on Vancouver Island, the news shone a spotlight on an emerging reality: First Nations in British Columbia are being engaged at a more meaningful level than ever before by the resource development sector. The way business is conducted in BC’s resource industry is changing. First Nations now have a stronger voice when dealing with projects proposed on their territory. Resource companies are continuing to transform their relationships with First Nations communities. The rules of engagement are undergoing a fundamental change. Once simply meeting regulations, companies are now embarking on long-term, comprehensive relationships that, ultimately, bring the greatest benefit to all. A landmark ruling in June by the Supreme Court of Canada will help speed along this evolving engagement process. In a unanimous decision, the court granted declaration of Aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in BC to the Tsilhqot’in First Nation. This unprecedented ruling has significant implications for future economic and resource development on First Nations lands, and draws further attention to major pipeline projects, such as the Northern Gateway, that are poised to cross several First Nations territories. Recognizing that stakeholder engagement must be not only done better, but also differently is good news for everyone. Here’s why: Evolving to Long-Term Relationships For years, the procedures for engagement with groups that would be affected by resource development projects, such as First Nations and local communities, was driven by the regulatory process. It was quite prescriptive: companies were required only to provide information about the project, hold engagement meetings, consider the views of communities, and document the consultation process. Our clients, both energy companies and First Nations alike, tell us that the traditional transactional approach has not produced a satisfactory long-term result for anyone. For their part, companies are realizing that to improve outcomes, they must gain a deeper understanding of Aboriginal values and relationships with the land, and engage First Nations during the project planning and design phases to discuss, consider, and address project risks and benefits. It is imperative that these relationships are built on a foundation of mutual respect and take the long-term view. Energy companies have also recognized they must deepen their relationships with environmental and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), whose acceptance of a particular project can lend the weight of consensus to a company’s resource development plan. The new approach includes initiatives that contribute to the long-term well-being of the communities impacted by development activities. It means working with local leaders to identify areas where the greatest benefits can be had, investing in them, establishing specific goals, and measuring progress through performance metrics. Over time, the effectiveness of these goals and investments can be benchmarked against the results the energy company has achieved with other communities. At the same time, we’ve heard from our First Nations clients that they recognize the need to take a more comprehensive approach. They’re looking at responsible energy development as not only a way to ensure the long-term sustainability of their communities and the environment, but also as a way to drive economic independence. There’s now a heightened focus on community benefits, greater decision-making power, and engagement as pa