Talks between hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline continued Friday with federal and provincial politicians and were expected to go into the weekend.
Crown Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said it was good to be talking early because “work needs to be done.”
“We’re here to listen to the Wet’suwet’en leadership and the chiefs,” Bennett told reporters in Smithers, B.C., prior to Friday’s meeting. “Our main job is for us to keep talking.”
Joining Bennett at the table on Day 2 were hereditary chiefs, B.C.’s Indigenous Affairs Minister Scott Fraser, and elected band council chiefs who signed community benefit agreements with TC Energy, the parent company of Coastal GasLink CGL).
The hereditary chiefs’ opposition to a natural gas pipeline cutting across their traditional territory, coupled with their efforts to limit police presence on their lands, have sparked shows of support across the country that have halted rail service for the past three weeks.
Tensions remain in some parts of the country where solidarity actions are still in place.
Nathan Cullen, a former NDP MP who is acting as a liaison between the governments and the chiefs, said outside the meeting that the amount of work being done is substantial but the parties are unlikely to reach a broad resolution on Friday.
“It is important, it seems to me, to the chiefs and to Canada and B.C., that even if we only can arrive at interim steps here, they’re durable. There’s no such thing as a quick fix in this. This is something that needs to be taken seriously and from my observations, all the parties are taking it incredibly seriously,” he said.
Establishing trust is important to arrive at solutions, which have to be found at a negotiating table, Cullen said.
“It wasn’t going to happen at a blockade. It wasn’t going to happen at a protest. It was always going to be a conversation between leadership and I think the fact that we are here is positive. I still remain hopeful that what comes out of today is something that can be built upon.
“For those folks that are expecting a full and final resolution of this matter after a day and a half of talks, I think that is a very, very high expectation to have.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan said he has no plans to go to Smithers in the near future and he’s been advised that talks have been co-operative, cordial and respectful.
(Talks moved to the Prestige Hotel in Smithers from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. Lee Wilson/APTN photo)
“I am hopeful, as I have always been, that there can be a peaceful resolution and a way forward, not just in Wet’suwet’en territory, not just in British Columbia, but indeed across the country.”
Fraser noted he had 25 hours of initial conversations with the chiefs several weeks ago and the province has been working closely with them to maintain an ongoing relationship.
“The important thing is we are willing to roll up our sleeves and get to the complex and difficult issues and we began that yesterday and we’re going to continue that today,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake outside Montreal proposed Friday that its Peacekeepers head up a temporary Indigenous police force to patrol the Wet’suwet’en territory and allow the RCMP to withdraw entirely from the area.
Grand Chief Joseph Norton said his community’s chief Peacekeeper has offered to work with other Indigenous police chiefs to gather the officers required.
Cullen said he wasn’t aware of the offer from the Mohawk council and it isn’t a part of the discussions at the meeting between the hereditary chiefs and ministers.
“New ideas or new offers, they’re coming in from everywhere,” he said. “That’s helpful to an extent but it’s going to be the people around that table who are going to make the solutions happen.”
The RCMP has already committed to ending patrols along a critical roadway in Wet’suwet’en territory while the negotiations unfold, while Coastal GasLink has consented to a two-day pause in its activities in northwestern B.C.
The dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline project began months ago, but tensions began to rise on Dec. 31 when the B.C. Supreme Court granted the company an injunction calling for the removal of any obstructions from roads, bridges or work sites it has been authorized to use in Wet’suwet’en territory.
The RCMP moved in to enforce that injunction on Feb. 6. Hours later, protesters started holding up railway traffic outside of Belleville, Ont., in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, thwarting freight and passenger rail travel.
During question period Friday, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said the economic repercussions of the suspended rail service and shipments have amounted to a “war on working people” and demanded to know how government would fight back.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau told a Commons committee on Thursday that Ottawa is trying to analyze the economic impacts to the economy of the disruptions, but said it is a complex calculation that could take up to six months to fully determine.
Garneau said the financial implications will likely be higher than most Canadians might think, as a total of $300 billion worth of goods moves by train every year in the country.
“What’s important here to realize is, even if we start tomorrow and we had all the barricades down, it takes weeks, perhaps months to get back up to speed.”
With files from The Canadian Press