Wednesday 26 February 2014

Dover, Fort Mckay, and a Marriage of Convenience.

The crowd packed the Legislature lawn. (Photo: David P. Ball)
Photo Credit: David P. Ball
Alot of eyes have been on the Dover/Fort Mackay lawsuit as a bell-weather for relations between industry and First Nations reserves going forward. Last week we got a resolution to the situation; but not alot of clarity.

Fort Mackay, a reserve on the banks of the Athabasca River north of Fort McMurray raised some eye brows when it filed legal action against the Dover oil sands project. The request was for a 20 mile industry buffer zone surrounding the Moose Lake reserve.

What I find interesting about this story is that it gives us some insight into the marriage of convenience that we've seen between environmental activists and first nations groups. 

I call it a marriage of convenience because, to my eye, the short term strategies that maximize their long term (and divergent) goals temporarily align. Environmentalists want to slow, or stop, the development of the oilsands. First Nations groups want to maximize the return they get on the development of the oilsands. They both require short term obstructionism.

From last summer:
As Bill Gallagher, a lawyer, aboriginal expert and author put it: “The oil sands, which undeservedly is continuing to garner an international black eye, now has soured the person who could be the most helpful in putting a happy face on it,” he warned. “[Fort McKay chief] Jim Boucher could have been the most important ambassador the oil sands ever had, and instead he’s going to go to the wall on an issue of vital importance” 
To my cyncial eyes that's similar to: "Fort McKay is the PR trump card, they know that, and they want to make sure they are adequately compensated for it".

The resolution as reported in the Financial Post can be summed up by the following sentence:
The confidential deal has three components: environmental protection, fiscal terms and business opportunities.
We don't know what the agreement looks like. We don't know what the real sticking points were, and where either side had to compromise. The cynic in me has a few suspicions; and they don't particularly relate to emissions or land use.

Bill Gallagher, a lawyer, author and expert on aboirginal issues is quoted as saying that, "The native endorsement of an oil sands project is a huge step on greening the oil sands internationally."

This article rightly points out that making the terms of this agreement known would go along way to increasing accountability, integrity, and inform public discourse on the matter. I couldn't agree more.

Does this have any impact beyond Fort McKay? Maybe not, but my suspicion is that we'll be seeing alot of similarly worded and similarly vague statements of support by First Nations groups in support of pipeline projects in the not so distant future. When things make this much economic sense for both parties; things get done.

Now that the Environmentalists have set up the First Nations groups as rallying points, and effective ones at that, I wonder how they will respond if said groups change their tune?

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