VICTORIA — Aboriginals leaders from across Canada say proposed changes to federal environmental law is setting a course for conflict.
The Aamjiwnaag First Nation of Sarnia, Ont., and about 20 other First Nations have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding he withdraw the amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
Aamjiwnaag spokesman Ron Plain said in the letter that the proposed amendments — part of the Conservatives’ Jobs and Economic Growth Act — give the federal environment minister complete discretion on setting the focus for environmental assessments.
“It is through environmental assessment that aboriginal peoples, including ourselves and the communities we live in, learn of proposed projects that may impact our aboriginal interests,” said Plain’s letter.
In the letter, which is to be released Thursday, Plain reminds Harper that governments must engage in a meaningful consultation process with aboriginals that includes discussing potential impacts on their rights and interests.
“It is baffling why you would now seek to avoid conducting a fulsome planning process for projects enabled by your government,” said the letter.
“Such a regulatory arrangement can only lead to additional conflict between project proponents and aboriginal peoples across Canada.”
Earlier this week, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell announced his province will proceed with the steps necessary to build a third massive hydroelectric dam in northeastern B.C.
Aboriginal groups in the region have said they have not been consulted on the so-called Site C project, which must yet go through an environmental assessment.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, suggested Harper’s proposed amendments are aimed squarely at watering down the environmental process for projects like Site C.
“If mega projects such as ... Site C are approved, it will be at the great expense of the constitutionally protected rights of indigenous Peoples and the precious environmental legacy that many British Columbians hope to share with future generations,” Phillip said.
The proposed Site C dam, located near Fort St. John, will create an 83-kilometre-long reservoir and will flood almost 5,400 hectares of land.
The dam will generate enough electricity to power 460,000 homes for a century, and is slated for completion in 2020.
Last February, the B.C. government called for amendments to the federal government’s Canadian Environmental Assessment Act “to create a unified federal-provincial review process that does away with redundancy and unnecessary costs.”
Campbell said last winter there are currently more than $3 billion in provincially-approved projects “stranded in the mire of federal process and delay.”