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NB Premier Wants $3M Refunded from First Nations Over Sisson and Other Resource Issues

Adam Huras

Aug 22, 2019
Premier Blaine Higgs says Indigenous communities should return a $3-million bonus paid to six Maliseet First Nations for seeing a mining project receive environmental approval amid continued opposition to the project.

In an interview with Brunswick News, the premier spoke about his frustration with the process, saying he still doesn’t understand what steps his government must take to adequately consult First Nations in efforts to get shale gas development and a massive mining project to move forward.

He questioned whether aboriginal communities should return the $3 million the province agreed to pay in 2017 for seeing the Sisson mining project receive environmental approval.

“I have said we should get that cheque back, but we haven’t,” Higgs said.

The premier says he’s also planning “a consultation process on consultation” amid increasing frustration over stalled efforts to push ahead on resource projects.

“Sisson Mine is a great example,” Higgs said. “They thought that part was over and yet it has been reintroduced.”

The proposed Sisson tungsten and molybdenum mine near Stanley received federal environmental approval two years ago, triggering the $3-million bonus the province agreed to pay to six Maliseet First Nations.

The payment was part of an accommodation agreement signed in 2017 with the provincial government with the First Nations communities of Oromocto, Kingsclear, St. Mary's, Woodstock, Tobique and Madawaska.

But several of the chiefs have since publicly stated they don’t want the mine and took the deal feeling they had no other choice.

Higgs said their message, in effect, is: "We may have taken the $3 million, but we’re not satisfied."

“But I haven’t got the cheque back yet," he said.

“I’m assuming that the First Nations communities that signed off must be still in favour because there’s no refund. But that’s the uncertainty. We need to get this resolved.”

Higgs’ frustration comes after Corridor Resources, New Brunswick's only shale gas player, announced earlier this month that it has stopped looking for the financial backer it needs for proposed multimillion-dollar expansion plans, citing uncertainty around efforts to consult First Nations.

The groups representing aboriginal communities at the negotiation table also told Brunswick News those talks with the province haven’t started.

The Wolastoqey Nation of New Brunswick, representing the province’s Maliseet communities, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnnInc., a non-profit representing the Mi'gmaq communities in New Brunswick, has pointed to New Brunswick’s existing duty to consult policy posted on the government’s own website.

The policy states New Brunswick “will consult with First Nations before an action or decision is taken that may adversely impact Aboriginal and treaty rights.”

“On consultations, you’ve heard me say a time or two that I don’t understand the process and I don’t know who to talk to,” Higgs said. “I took some abuse for saying that.

“But I stand by it and I am actually planning to do a consultation process on consultation.”

Higgs admitted the concept sounds “strange,” but is needed.

“I know we can’t cover every scenario of investment, but if we receive an application or proposal, who do we talk to?” Higgs said. “What are the timelines, when do we make decisions, how long of a process is this?

“So basically, it defines for any would-be investor that we have a process.”

Higgs didn’t provide a timeline for the review.

The premier admitted his government is “a little behind” in its efforts to consult First Nations on shale gas, although he stands by his own assertions that the industry can thrive in New Brunswick, despite stumbling blocks.

He contends that billions in private sector dollars could be spent to convert Saint John’s Canaport LNG facility from an import to an export terminal, if there was a local supply of gas.

“That’s no small task, it’s a serious development, billions of dollars, but we already have basic infrastructure here,” Higgs said.

“I have been told directly from Repsol that if they have a gas supply like Alberta has, they would be converting that plant.”

Canaport’s majority owners, Repsol, did not return a request for comment.

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