“If you can’t bring your A-game and A-team to plan, develop and execute consultation with First Nations over a development project, don’t bother.” That was the key message that Doug Ford, Principal and Senior Consultant at Communica Public Affairs Inc. presented to the Canadian Oil and Gas Export Summit at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver on May 30, 2012. Doug’s topic was “Addressing the Aboriginal and Stakeholder Concerns on the Environmental Implications of Accessing the Coast of British Columbia,” and he framed his discussion around the theme that there are significant challenges as well as significant opportunities to oil and gas development in B.C.
Doug stressed the complexity of First Nations engagement and offered suggestions on how to proceed. He instructed the audience that although First Nations do not technically have a veto power over projects in B.C., their support goes a long way in obtaining the social license for a project. That is why committing time and resources to First Nations engagement is so important.
First, Doug explained what kinds of oil and gas activity exist currently in B.C. He showed a photo of a kayak sailing by an oil tanker in the Burrard Inlet that was very popular with the crowd – and really helped the audience comprehend the realities of crude oil export in B.C.
Doug then explained the complicated regulatory framework that projects must go through in B.C. and he addressed expected changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as a result of Bill C-38.
He then went on to explain the crucial role that stakeholder and First Nations engagement plays in B.C. Any oil and gas development needs social license to proceed, and in B.C. that is particularly true. Doug noted that gaining social license can be difficult in the province. “We really struggle as industry proponents with how we marry society’s desires with the business drivers that underpin every project,” he said. “If a project is designed by an engineer, you know there is a start date and end date. We struggle with how that can be managed to achieve social license.”
He iterated the need to plan engagement strategies well in advance and allocate plenty of time and patience, whether dealing with local communities, First Nations or both. “Patience and empathy are important – it’s not always about you,” he told the audience. “Ask what success looks like to the First Nations and find a way to mirror that.”
The audience seemed to really enjoy his presentation and there were plenty of questions at the end. Most of the questions were either about the proposed changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act or about First Nations in B.C. The questions about Aboriginal issues generally stemmed from a lack of understanding on exactly what legal standing First Nations have in B.C. Because there was a significant U.S. presence at the conference, there was also interest in the unique situation in B.C. in regards to Aboriginal rights and title. Doug reminded them that although collaboration would be challenging, it is not impossible. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you First Nations are opposed to everything — they’re not opposed to many different projects be it hydro, LNG, natural gas development or renewable power,” he said. “And they haven’t been opposed to the existing large diameter crude oil pipeline linking Edmonton to Vancouver – as well as the transportation of crude by tanker through the Burrard Inlet to international markets. It just takes time, patience and plenty of hard work.”
– Jessica Davies, Advisor-Aboriginal Engagement, Communica Public Affairs