Evidence of meeting #24 for Natural Resources in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was indigenous.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sharleen Gale  Chair of the Board of Directors, First Nations Major Projects Coalition
Delbert Wapass  Board Member, Indian Resource Council Inc.
Herb Lehr  President, Metis Settlements General Council
Dale Swampy  President, National Coalition of Chiefs
Steve Saddleback  Director, National Energy Business Centre of Excellence, Indian Resource Council Inc.

4:45 p.m.

Dale Swampy President, National Coalition of Chiefs

Can you hear me? Would you like me to proceed now?

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Yes, you're good to go. Thank you.

We go over to you for five minutes.

4:45 p.m.

President, National Coalition of Chiefs

Dale Swampy

Thank you, Chair and committee members, for inviting me to talk today about the fair energy transition.

My name is Dale Swampy. I am the president of the National Coalition of Chiefs. The NCC is a non-partisan, independent coalition of first nations leaders who recognize the importance of energy and resource development as a means to improve community well-being and defeat on-reserve poverty. We work to create mutually beneficial alliances between industry and first nations leaders to advance responsible resource development projects that positively benefit first nation people through employment, own-source revenues and economic development.

We are very concerned about this government's focus on a just transition. We have already seen its politics destroy billions of dollars in opportunities for our communities, from northern gateway to Teck Frontier to energy east and more.

We don't see a transition happening. It's not. Global demand for oil and gas has never been higher. In fact, there's an energy crisis and the G7 is calling for producers around the world to pump out more. Canada has never exported more oil; we are at record levels. Oil and gas companies are making more money than they have in their history, and the federal government is making more revenues off them than ever before.

What about first nations? Just when we were starting to make headway in procurement and equity shares, the government decided we should limit new projects. Imagine if we had an export capacity for LNG today. First nations across Alberta, B.C. and the west coast would be on their way to financial independence. Imagine if TMX was in service instead of being delayed for years and years in bureaucratic red tape. The first nations groups that are vying to own it would have good revenues coming into their communities to support their programs and needs.

It is not realistic to think that, if Canada simply stops producing oil, other countries will stop using it. If the government doesn't want to be part of it, that's fine, but you have no right to stop first nations from our right to develop resources from our lands. I have heard that the last barrel should be a Canadian barrel because of our high ESG standards. I think the last barrel should be a first nations barrel.

Don't forget that fossil fuels are used for LNG and blue hydrogen and that these are essential to the energy transition. There isn't any credible source that thinks we should stop using those for decades to come. In fact, it is widely expected that the demand for that will rise. This is an opportunity for first nations and would contribute to lowering global emissions and getting other countries off coal if we are not blocked from pursuing it.

I want to end by pointing out the high costs of a poorly planned energy transition and the crisis we now face in first nations. Many of our communities rely on diesel generation. People have to drive for hours to get to doctors appointments or a grocery store. A lot of people aren't on the grid, and even those who are don't have the electricity capacity to add charging stations in garages they don't have. You won't find any electric cars on the rez.

The high costs of gas, heat, power and food are crippling many of our people, who don't have anything extra in their wallets. This energy transition, which so far is just a crisis, is hitting us the hardest. People are suffering in poverty when their communities should have been benefiting from the high value of these resources. Your policies have done nothing to prevent this and, in many ways, they have exacerbated it. There is nothing fair or equitable about what is happening today.

Thank you. I look forward to your questions.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Thank you for your opening statement.

I just want to acknowledge, Mr. Chen, that we have you online as well. Thank you for joining us today.

We're going to our first round of six-minute questions.

Our first person up, according to my list, is Mr. Melillo.

If you're ready to go, the floor is yours for six minutes.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate the opportunity to engage with our witnesses here today. I want to thank all of the witnesses for joining us and for your important testimony already, which gives us a lot to think about. I'm sure we'll get much more from the questions.

I want to start with Mr. Swampy.

I know that part of the National Coalition of Chiefs' mission is to combat on-reserve poverty. You mentioned in your remarks the incredible benefits of the energy sector for the communities you represent. I'm just curious to get your thoughts on the potential, or perhaps lack thereof, of the green energy sector from an economic perspective to replace the prosperity that's currently being provided by oil and gas.

4:50 p.m.

President, National Coalition of Chiefs

Dale Swampy

We believe the transition to blue hydrogen is the way to go. We know there is an abundance of natural gas in western Canada, and in eastern Canada for that matter, that we can use for the next century, if we wanted to. As we move forward, closer to technology, that will give us a better opportunity to get away from greenhouse gases. I think natural gas converting to hydrogen is the way to go.

The Alberta government is fully behind us on this. We're developing a southern hydrogen hub in southern Alberta. We have 14 first nations behind it. There are many nations in Saskatchewan that are organizing coalitions to develop these types of green energies, including biofuel and so forth. In northern B.C., for example, the amount of opportunity for LNG is incredible. They'll be employing some 800 people over a period of 30 years on the coast, something they needed because of the lack of forestry and the lack of mining, which have pulled out of that region in the past decade.

With respect to the just transition, I think we have to look to natural gas, to blue hydrogen, to carbon sequestration and so forth, and we need the government to support us with this transition.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

I appreciate that answer.

Mr. Swampy, you also mention in your opening remarks that the government has “no right”, I believe was the quote, to tell first nations communities to stop production on their lands. I would certainly agree with you. Previously in this committee, I asked you directly, in regard to a proposed emissions cap on oil and gas, if you felt that the government should acquire the consent of indigenous communities before moving forward, and you indicated that you believe so. I asked many other witnesses the same question and had the same response.

Since then, Mr. Swampy, we had the opportunity to have the Minister of Natural Resources here in committee. I asked him six times if he felt that his government would have to abide by the conventions set out in UNDRIP and have the consent of indigenous communities before moving forward, and he refused to answer. In fact, he said, “the government is looking to ensure that communities that have a strong interest in this put their hands up and tell us that they want to participate.”

I would argue that's certainly not an empowering way of doing consultation, waiting for communities to put their hands up and say that they want to be a part of it. I'd like to get your thoughts on the seeming lack of consultation by this government and the fact that they're saying one thing about UNDRIP on the one hand, and then acting in the opposite way on the other hand.

4:50 p.m.

President, National Coalition of Chiefs

Dale Swampy

There is truth in the fact that a lack of consultation by this government has hurt us quite a bit. The northern gateway project, for example, had 31 out of the 40 right-of-way communities signed on in support of the project—and not only support, but they were also willing to take on the risk of ownership in this project. We tried to meet with the federal government before November 2016 when they cancelled this project.

I know exactly why they didn't want to meet with us. They wanted deniability, to be able to say, “We heard first nations say that they don't want the pipeline. We didn't hear any first nations say they wanted it.” Well, of course they didn't, because they wouldn't talk to us. They wouldn't return our emails. They wouldn't return our letters. They wouldn't return our calls.

It's an unjust transition that's coming up right now. It's unjust because the government has a purpose in mind and wants to make sure it gets this law passed. UNDRIP itself can become a vehicle to deny projects, allowing the government to be hypocritical. It gives first nations people, because of their treaty rights, the power to deny projects, but it also gives us a right to approve projects. Under UNDRIP, we should be able to build our own resources on our own lands and traditional territories. If we want to do that, we should be allowed to do that.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Eric Melillo Conservative Kenora, ON

Thank you.

I don't think I have much time for much else, so I appreciate that.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Thank you.

We're going to Mr. Sorbara next for his six minutes.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I welcome all the witnesses this afternoon. I found all of their testimonies quite interesting.

On this topic of an energy transformation or transition.... I don't mean to personalize this, but I will for 30 seconds.

I grew up in northern British Columbia. Mr. Swampy, you mentioned northern gateway. I grew up in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, until I went off to university. I know that Kitimat is benefiting from the LNG project. Prince Rupert benefited from a number of pipeline projects after the pulp mill closed and displaced hundreds of workers. A lot of individuals lost their jobs when it closed, including indigenous folks who worked at the pulp mill. I worked there in the summertime and at a JS McMillan Fisheries cannery to pay for my education. Those jobs are now gone, as well. Workers from the indigenous community were very prominent at JS McMillan Fisheries and the other fisheries along the coast—Port Edward, Prince Rupert, Port Simpson and all of those communities there.

I will first go to the First Nations Major Projects Coalition.

Ms. Gale, you talked about a project that you saw as successful. I think it was a geothermal project. Can you describe the particulars of that project and what made it successful?

4:55 p.m.

Chair of the Board of Directors, First Nations Major Projects Coalition

Chief Sharleen Gale

Thank you.

First, I think it's really important for everyone in the room to know that it is 100% indigenous-owned by the Fort Nelson First Nation. The Fort Nelson First Nation has been involved in oil and gas for over 60 years. Oil and gas is something we all need, as Canadians. However, in the Fort Nelson area, we have been the highest polluter of greenhouse gas emissions through the Fort Nelson gas plant, because that's where we currently get our power. We're not part of Site C.

The Clarke Lake field, where the geothermal facility is being built, is a 60-year-old gas field. It has now been depleted, so we have repurposed this gas site and are creating the geothermal facility, which should generate between seven and 14 megawatts of power. We'll be able to provide power to over 14,000 homes.

With that come spinoff opportunities and the possibility of what is in the brine: lithium extraction for greenhouses. We are looking at over 100 greenhouses. We know that food security is one of the main concerns for our people and the people living up north in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska, so we're very proud of this geothermal facility.

What made it successful is a $40-million grant from NRCan. If not for the $40-million grant, we wouldn't be where we are today.

Mahsi.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Thank you, Ms. Gale. It's great to hear about this collaboration, and to see the ownership of that project and that project moving forward. You're absolutely correct—food security is very important these days, and even more pressing with the unprecedented actions taken in Ukraine by Russia.

Both the Métis Settlements and the National Coalition of Chiefs mentioned skills training in their testimony, if I'm not mistaken. I believe this is a huge opportunity and a huge “must” on the part of the Canadian government working with indigenous peoples across Canada on skills training. The indigenous population is very young in Canada, relative to other groups. We need these folks in the labour force. We know our labour force issues.

Are there any programs you can point to that we can determine as successes, in terms of skills training?

I'll go to Mr. Swampy first.

May 30th, 2022 / 4:55 p.m.

President, National Coalition of Chiefs

Dale Swampy

We have many examples across Canada, but we want to try to focus on on-reserve training. The most important part of defeating on-reserve poverty is to be able to bring training to our communities. In order to do so, we need the government to recognize this and to empower regional coalitions of first nations communities to develop their own training programs.

The reason I say this is that we've had training programs that have succeeded in the past that included life skills programs to teach our people how to transition into a regular working lifestyle, which means going to bed early and waking up in the morning. We had retention trainers who were working with the industry people to resolve some problems with first nations people who didn't show up at work, and so forth. We also had retention trainers on-reserve to visit community members who were not showing up for work in order to see how to transition them back into the workforce. It's going to take time.

The Fort McKay First Nation, for example, is probably the richest community in North America. It has a household median income of almost $150,000. That didn't come overnight. It came over 50 years of extra consideration it received from the six big oil sands companies. Through that, working together with the community, the community was able to transition from a social welfare society to a producing society, where everybody is working—

5 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Thank you, Mr. Swampy.

I'm out of time, but thank you for your testimony. It was very insightful.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Sorry, Mr. Saddleback, somebody else may be able to pick that up when they get to you.

We're going to Monsieur Simard, for six minutes.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I hope the interpretation will work well during the witnesses' interventions.

I would just like to begin by saying that I'm a bit confused because the presentation of certain witnesses is somewhat contradictory to my vision of the development of oil projects. I think the number of oil projects needs to be reduced if we're going to address the climate change crisis.

At the same time, I want to be very respectful of first nations interests in economic development. Perhaps the best thing is to speak frankly, with due respect, and to see what the answers to my questions will be.

Perhaps I should start by asking Chief Gale a very simple question.

Chief Gale, back home in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean, an Innu nation living in Mashteuiatsh has spoken out strongly against the GNL Québec project, or the Énergie Saguenay project, if you will, which suggests that the interests of first nations are not monolithic. Many first nations are speaking out against oil projects.

Is your coalition engaging in dialogue on this issue with first nations that want to develop fossil fuels and those that may see it in a negative light? Is it trying to find a consensus?

5 p.m.

Chair of the Board of Directors, First Nations Major Projects Coalition

Chief Sharleen Gale

The First Nations Major Projects Coalition is a non-political organization. We're not project specific. The projects we work on ones that are supported by the communities. However, I understand that not every community is fully supportive of LNG, but that goes down with consultation and consent.

Many oil and gas projects have happened here in my territory. It's not that we were against oil and gas; it's where the project was being developed. If you're going to put a pipeline through a moose calving ground, that's not going to meet our values and we're going to refuse the project. It really comes down to consent and consultation, and to find out why the first nation is saying no.

5 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

I understand this very well.

We know that climate change may have a slightly greater impact on first nations, particularly with respect to species extinction, poor air quality, and the loss of some infrastructure and habitat.

Isn't it difficult to reconcile this discourse with a discourse that defends new oil projects?

I'd like to hear what Chief Gale and Mr. Swampy have to say about this.

5:05 p.m.

Chair of the Board of Directors, First Nations Major Projects Coalition

Chief Sharleen Gale

Dale, do you want to go first?

5:05 p.m.

President, National Coalition of Chiefs

Dale Swampy

Sure.

We have to keep in mind that the National Coalition of Chiefs and its members are not climate deniers. We believe the transition has to exist, just like we believe the transition has to exist in both Canada and the rest of the world. We are the leaders in environmental protection. If you meet with the Canadians who run the oil and gas sector, you'll see that they are just like you. They are concerned about the environment, about safety, about integrity. They'll do whatever they can to protect our country.

In order for us to be able to transition, we need to transition to something. I don't think we have an ability to be able to transition to any green energy right now. They're just not sustainable. We're suggesting things like blue hydrogen, biofuels and so forth to start off so that when we get to that technology that can provide us with the development of hydrogen as a replacement for gasoline, then I think we can move forward.

In the meantime, we have to be sustainable. We have to react to what's going on in the rest of the world. We don't want an energy crisis in Canada. An energy crisis will create problems for the impoverished. That includes our first nation people on the reserve.

Thank you.

5:05 p.m.

Chair of the Board of Directors, First Nations Major Projects Coalition

Chief Sharleen Gale

Thank you.

I believe when first nations have equity in major projects that are happening in the territories it's the truest form of consent. First nations build projects from the ground, so that includes our land users. When the Indian agent went into our villages to push people to the reserves, not everyone left. We still have people living a traditional lifestyle that has been out there for thousands of years. That's how we do a lot of our traditional knowledge. That's how we get our information about the changes that are happening on the land.

When first nations have seats as owners and as members of boards of directors, it's not all about prosperity. We can make the right decisions to do the correct thing for the environment while we're part of these projects.

Thank you.

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Simard Bloc Jonquière, QC

Thank you very much.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal John Aldag

Unfortunately, we're out of time on that.

I should point out to everybody that, unfortunately, we have lost Mr. Wapass's connection. We still have Mr. Saddleback here from the Indian Resource Council, so if anybody's looking for a representative there, I would invite you to direct your questions to Mr. Saddleback.

Mr. Angus, it's over you for your six minutes.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

I'll turn it over to Mr. Desjarlais.