Growing confrontation discussed at length in the Alberta Legislature

Friends of the Lubicon
PO Box 444 Stn D,
Etobicoke ON M9A 4X4
Tel: (416) 763-7500
Email: fol (at) tao (dot) ca
www.lubicon.ca

October 17, 2008

Yesterday the growing confrontation between the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation and TransCanada Corporation was discussed at length in the Alberta Legislature.

Liberal Leader Kevin Taft and New Democratic Leader Brian Mason took the government to task for their failure to intervene in the dispute over TransCanada’s massive pipeline across Lubicon Territory, their failure to resolve the land rights dispute, and their failure to respect United Nations directives.

Mr. Zwozdesky, Alberta’s Minister for Aboriginal Relations, attempted to pass the ball to the federal government, claiming Alberta had no power to resolve the overall land rights question.

NDP Leader Brian Mason was having none of that. He said "given that further oil and gas development at the risk of Lubicon livelihood is the responsibility of the Alberta government, why won’t you act immediately to compel your government to suspend the pipeline until they adhere to internationally recognized standards and honestly consult with the Lubicon?"

Mr. Mason is right. While an overall land rights settlement with the Lubicon is primarily a federal government responsibility, approval of resource exploitation projects does fall squarely in the provincial government’s lap. It’s up to the Alberta government alone to suspend the licenses and approvals it provided to TransCanada until there is a resolution of this dispute.

Liberal Leader Kevin Taft asked the Minister "The Lubicon people were not even allowed to participate in the regulatory hearings. What does this minister expect the Lubicon people to do in this matter when the provincial regulatory process simply ignores their concerns? What does he expect them to do?"

Mr. Zwozdesky’s answer? "Let’s let the process take its proper course here…"

Which in Alberta’s oil and gas fields can be interpreted to mean "shut up, lie back and don’t get in the way."

The full text of these exchanges is included below.

 

* * * * * * *

Hansard

Alberta Provincial Legislature

October 16, 2008

Excerpts regarding the Lubicon Nation

The Speaker: The hon. Leader of the Official Opposition.

Dr. Taft: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s a real privilege to rise today and introduce to you and to all members of the Assembly several representatives of the Lubicon Lake First Nation and their supporters. They’re visiting today to speak out for their rights as citizens of Alberta and of Canada, hoping to remind the government that vital issues surrounding their land rights and oil and gas development have yet to be resolved after many, many decades. I’ll ask them to rise as I give their names. Visiting today are Lubicon councillors Dwight Gladue and Alphonse Ominayak; Ed Bianchi of Kairos, the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives; Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada; and Dietlind Bork and Craig Benjamin, also from Amnesty International Canada. I would ask all members to please give them a respectful and warm welcome. Thank you.

The Speaker: Third Official Opposition main question. The hon. Leader of the Official Opposition.

Lubicon Lake Band Land Claim

Dr. Taft: Thanks, Mr. Speaker. Today we have representatives from the Lubicon Lake First Nation in the gallery. They are here today voicing their concerns over oil and gas development on their lands. This development recently took a big step forward with the approval of a huge gas pipeline by the Alberta Utilities Commission over land that has been under dispute for decades. My questions are to the Minister of Aboriginal Relations. Will this minister make it an urgent priority to reach a fair and effective resolution to this decades-old dispute?

Mr. Zwozdesky: Mr. Speaker, let me speak to the issue of the land claim, which has been outstanding for decades, as has been pointed out. I indicated to Chief Ominayak that as soon as possible, as soon as we know who the new federal minister for INAC is going to be, I will do everything I can to bring that side of the group along with the chief’s people to the table and act, if I can, as somewhat of a facilitator or catalyst.

The issue is really the responsibility of the federal government. Under the national resources transfer agreement we as the province of Alberta must and will set aside lands as requested by the government of Canada. We have not been requested to do so yet.

The Speaker: The hon. leader.

Dr. Taft: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. To the same minister: is the minister, then, saying that he has no responsibility in solving this land dispute? Is that not what he is just saying?

Mr. Zwozdesky: No. I think if he checks Hansard, he’ll find out that I said words like: I will act as a facilitator if I can, and I will act as a catalyst if I can. I promised Chief Ominayak I would do that. I just spoke with our two guests here, Dwight Gladue and Alphonse Ominayak, and I indicated the same thing, and I asked them to please pass along that reiterated sentiment to Chief Ominayak when they return. They said they would. As soon as we know who the new minister for INAC is, we will sit down and we will get the serious talk going again. That’s my intention, and I hope I can deliver on it.

Dr. Taft: Again to the same minister. The Lubicon people were not even allowed to participate in the regulatory hearings. What does this minister expect the Lubicon people to do in this matter when the provincial regulatory process simply ignores their concerns? What does he expect them to do?

Mr. Zwozdesky: Mr. Speaker, the issue of the Alberta Utilities Commission hearings and so on is really under the purview of the Minister of Energy, but I do know that the Lubicon were offered an opportunity to participate in some form of a meeting on this issue back in April with the AUC. I believe that they took up that opportunity, and the situation that has resulted, I’m sure, will in due course unfold and will be resolved. In the meantime, let’s let the process take its proper course here, and let’s hope it comes to a happy resolution for all involved.

The Speaker: The hon. Member for Edmonton-Highlands- Norwood, followed by the hon. Member for Calgary-Fort.

Lubicon Lake Band Land Claim

Mr. Mason: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Last Friday in a decision that came as no surprise to industry the AUC approved the application by TransCanada to build a pipeline through contested Lubicon lands. Two months before that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of the United Nations challenged the government of Alberta’s authority to authorize a pipeline across Lubicon territory without their consent. By allowing this development to proceed, this government is callously breaching the human rights directives of the United Nations. My question is to the Minister of Aboriginal Relations. Why won’t the minister act to comply with the directives of the United Nations and suspend the pipeline until these issues are properly resolved?

Mr. Zwozdesky: Mr. Speaker, that particular issue is really a matter for the government of Canada, which is a member of the United Nations, as the member here likely knows. The unfortunate situation which I alluded to earlier in question period today is that technically speaking and legally speaking the Lubicon don’t have a legally defined set of boundaries. Until that issue is resolved, I don’t think we’ll be able to make the kind of progress that is hoped for by all sides with respect to the issues being raised today.

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Mr. Mason: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I just want to indicate that the letter says that information received points to a lack of clarity with regard to the land rights over territory through which the Pipeline would be routed, and therefore to doubts as to whether the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Utilities Commission may legitimately authorise the construction of a pipeline. Why won’t you stop the pipeline until the land issues are resolved?

The Speaker: The hon. member will table whatever document he is quoting from.

Mr. Mason: Yes, I will.

Mr. Zwozdesky: Mr. Speaker, the issue here, again, is one of a legal nature. Unfortunately, in the late 1800s, when the government of Canada of the day travelled the area that we now know as Alberta, they could not reach every single place by any particular means of transportation available to them at the time. There was a recognition, however, that a group called the Lubicon existed, and ever since that time in the absence of a legally defined area the government of Canada and the Lubicons have been trying to get together and solve this matter. I have provided my comments and I will stick by them and I will do everything I can to help bring the two sides together as soon as possible.

The Speaker: The hon. member.

Mr. Mason: Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker. Resolution of the Lubicon land claim is both a federal and a provincial responsibility, but given that the impoverished and unhealthy conditions of First Nations people residing on Crown land are your responsibility and given that further oil and gas development at the risk of Lubicon livelihood is the responsibility of the Alberta government, why won’t you act immediately to compel your government to suspend the pipeline until they adhere to internationally recognized standards and honestly consult with the Lubicon?

Mr. Zwozdesky: Mr. Speaker, we have honestly consulted with the Lubicon. We’ve been doing it for many, many years, and we’re going to do more of it, but we have to respect the Constitution of Canada. The national resources transfer agreement that I alluded to earlier is a schedule within the Constitution of Canada, and it must be abided by. When and if requested by the government of Canada to set aside unoccupied Crown lands to add them to a reservation or to create a new one, we the province must abide. We have not been asked to abide as yet, and I’m hoping that at some point soon we will be able to further the discussion.

The Speaker: The hon. Member for Calgary-Varsity.

Mr. Chase: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I have five tablings today on the theme of justice. The first two tablings are correspondence between myself and the hon. Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and the second tabling is the minister’s response to me. My next set of responses has to deal with the Lubicon Nation’s concerns. I would like to note that in 2005 the Official Opposition of Alberta held the government accountable for the abuse of the process regarding the Sawn Lake development and lack of consultation at that time.

My first tabling on behalf of the Lubicon comes from the United Nations. Canada has been the subject of several UN decisions regarding abuse of the human and aboriginal rights of the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation under two international human rights covenants to which Canada is a signatory.

My second set of Lubicon tablings has to do with human rights and church organizations who have sent messages to the Alberta government calling for the suspension of the pipeline until the Lubicon rights are respected. That’s a joint release of Amnesty International and Kairos, who were introduced to the members of the House earlier.

My final tabling is Land and Way of Life under Threat: The Lubicon Cree of Canada. It details the problems they’ve had, especially with oil and gas extraction without permission. Thank you.

The Speaker: The hon. Member for Edmonton-Gold Bar.

Mr. MacDonald: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have one tabling. I would like to table five copies of an excerpt from an April 22, 2008, letter from Bernard Ominayak, chief of the Lubicon Lake Nation, and Mr. Arthur Cunningham, senior aboriginal policy adviser for TransCanada Pipelines Limited in which Chief Ominayak outlines conditions he would like TransCanada to meet regarding the use of Lubicon traditional lands. Thank you.

The Speaker: The hon. Member for Edmonton-Highlands- Norwood.

Mr. Mason: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I’d like to table the appropriate number of copies of a letter that I referred to today from the chair of the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination dated August 15, 2008. The letter refers to the unresolved dispute of the construction of a pipeline through the Lubicon Cree territory and challenges the authority of the AUC and the government of Alberta to authorize the construction of a pipeline across Lubicon territory without Lubicon consent.

 


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