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Federal Budget Cuts Are 'Gutting' Environmental Review Process, UBCIC Grand Chief Says

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The federal government has not only slashed the health budgets of several aboriginal-focused organizations but also has revamped the environmental assessment process in order to fast-track major projects, including the contested Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge Inc., aboriginals and environmentalists charge.

The changes involve consolidating the assessment tasks so they'll be conducted by three federal bodies—the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission—instead of the current 40, according to Postmedia News. In addition, the maximum amount of time for hearings will be 24 months, and the government will only listen to public comment from those with a direct stake in a project. Further, provinces would be permitted to authorize some projects under the federal Fisheries Act, Postmedia News reported.

“It’s a very interesting piece of legislation because it encapsulates a number of their primary intenders in terms of exploiting the lands and resources within the territories of the various indigenous nations, the native people,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told Indian Country Today Media Network, referring to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s majority Conservative government. “They’re completely gutting—absolutely gutting—the environmental assessment processes.”

Canada’s environment minister, Joe Oliver—the same federal official who vilified supposed foreign radicals’ backing of First Nations’ objections to environmentally sensitive projects—said Canada has a unique, fleeting opportunity to sell its oil to Asia and engage with other industry partners such as the mining industry to create jobs and revenue. He also said the goal is to make the process “more predictable and more efficient,” according to Global TV News.

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“We must seize the moment. These opportunities will not last forever,” Oliver told the television network. “We need to tap into the tremendous appetite for resources in the world’s most dynamic emerging economies, resources we have in abundance.”

Phillip said that the new policies could spell trouble for aboriginal relations with the federal government.

“It will just trigger conflict and confrontation across the country not only with First Nations people but also with the environmentalists and conservationists,” Phillip said. “[There’s] going to be huge backlash to this.”