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Conservative candidate refuses to sign pledge as it may contravene Elections Act

Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en clan asking candidates to commit to not provide federal funding for LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink
A photo of work in progress in 2019 on the Coastal Gas Link pipe which is meant to carry natural gas from Dawson Creek to the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat. (File photo)

Claire Rattée, the Conservative candidate for Skeena Bulkley Valley said she will not be signing an online pledge put forth by a Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en clan asking candidates to commit to not provide federal funding for LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink projects in Northern B.C.

Rattée cited Canada Elections Act (550) and said it prohibits candidates from signing pledges of any kind between nomination and polling day.

Jennifer Wickham, media coordinator for Gidimt’en checkpoint, confirmed that the pledge – put forth on Sept. 13 by Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s Gidimt’en Clan asking candidates to prioritize the First Nation’s land rights and title, reconciliation and climate action over bailouts for large fossil fuel projects – had already garnered more than 14 signatories in one day.

Elections Canada told The Terrace Standard that Section 550 of the Elections Act states a candidate must not limit or sign any document that represents a commitment to exercise or not to exercise his or her freedom of action in Parliament if he or she is elected or resigns from his or her position as a Member of Parliament if invited to do so by a person or an association.

“Therefore, the candidate may not limit himself or herself in advance by making a commitment following the signing of a document. If this were the case, the candidate in question would be in contravention of the electoral law under Section 550,” stated Elections Canada, spokesperson Natasha Gauthier in an email statement.

“The words “follow a course of action” here refer to making a commitment in advance, i.e., even before being elected, and thereby subjecting oneself in advance to restrictions on one’s “possible” role in Parliament,” added Gauthier.

While Elections Canada did not comment on the specific case/pledge, it said any potential violations of the Canada Act is undertaken by the independent Commissioner of Canada Elections, based on complaints.

The signatories are mostly from the Green Party of Canada including Skeena Bulkley Valley candidate Adeana Young.

Wickham’s list included Green candidates from B.C. such as Devyani Singh (Vancouver Quadra), Paul Manly (Nanaimo-Ladysmith), Lia Versaevel (Cowichan-Malahat-Langford), Jessica Wegg (North Island-Powell River), Tara Howse (South Okanagan-West Kootenay), Nicole Bellay (Mission- Matsqui-Fraser Canyon), Rana Nelson (Kootenay- Columbia), Farrukh Chishtie (Vancouver Kingsway), Alaric Paivarinta (Vancouver Centre).

Green candidates from Ontario Gabe Rose (Kitchener South & Hespeler), Owen Bradley (Kitchener—Conestoga) and Angela Keller (Ottawa Centre) had also added their name to the pledge.

“We have to prioritize Indigenous title and sovereignty and we have to act now in this climate crisis that we are in,” said Young in an email and added, “It’s time to reset and make changes to legislation and regulations that cause harm to Indigenous peoples and their unceded territories.”

The Gidimt’en clan’s pledge request is the latest in a series of events going back several years in which the clan and its allies oppose the CGL pipeline, saying that hereditary chiefs had not given permission for it to cross their traditional territory.

“If federal candidates are serious about reconciliation, they must commit to not subsidize projects that threaten our sovereignty, violate our land and sacrifice our future. Otherwise, when candidates talk of reconciliation, it’s just empty promises — and we’ve had more than enough of those already,” said Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham), a supporting chief in the Cassyex House of the Gidimt’en Clan, in a statement that came from the checkpoint office.

The Gidimt’en clan did not immediately provide any information as to what LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink might have asked for in terms of subsidies.

But it did refer to a $220 million federal grant provided to LNG Canada in 2019 to help buy efficient gas turbine engines that will super cool natural gas to a liquid state for shipping overseas. Those engines will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a selling point for the grant approval.

In addition, the District of Kitimat also received a $55 million federal grant to replace the Haisla Bridge to provide better access from Kitimat to the industrial area in which LNG Canada is located.

Tensions bubbled up in January 2020 when the RCMP arrested Wet’suwet’en members and others following first a provincial Supreme Court injunction banning the blocking of construction and then an enforcement order to remove anyone not obeying the injunction.

Police presence in the area of the pipeline dispute has cost taxpayers at least $19 million, the Gidimt’en clan have also contended.

The 670-kilometre-long pipeline in northern B.C. by TC Energy is to deliver natural gas from Dawson Creek area to the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat.

The $6.6 billion pipeline, part of the $40 billion LNG Canada project, are estimated to provide more than 10,000 jobs over the construction period for both.

The Gidimt’en clan is also accusing CGL’s contractor of digging in what it calls a biodiverse and archaeologically significant area over the past month without the permission of the Cas Yikh of the Gidimt’en clan.

Responding to this, CGL said it operated under Site Alteration permit as construction will need to occur through the site to allow for the safe installation of the pipeline crossing at Lamprey Creek. In an email, CGL spokesperson Natasha Westover said these activities were monitored by a qualified archaeologist who has documented the site and preserved and inventoried artifacts.

The Gidimt’en group further said the project, which allegedly violates Wet’suwet’en sovereignty, is already over budget and will fail without government assistance.

In August, reports of financial talks between LNG Canada and CGL’s parent, TC Energy, surfaced after CGL said its original cost of $6.2 billion had increased to $6.6 billion.

A LNG Canada spokesperson told Black Press Media that the new proposed cost was “over and above what was agreed to when we took our final investment decision in late 2018.”

Responding to Gidimt’en pledge against subsidies, the spokesperson highlighted economic benefits.

“Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission made clear that true reconciliation includes economic reconciliation: Access to jobs, training and education, and ensuring that Indigenous communities acquire sustainable, long-term benefits from economic development projects like ours,” the LNG Canada spokesperson added.

The Gidimt’en said the financial case for both LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink is weakening and the scant local economic benefits are dwindling, particularly in light of recent reports from the International Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, both of which urge a global wind-down of oil and gas expansion.

LNG Canada confirmed it has not received any sort of federal grant or assistance since 2019. Neither is CGL anticipating any federal funding for completion of the pipeline project, it said.

Meanwhile, Incumbent NDP candidate Taylor Bachrach – who is projected to win the Skeena-Bulkley Valley based on early polls – did not say if he intends to sign the pledge, but said that he would not support such an intervention by the federal government.

“In a climate emergency, our public financial resources must be focused on safeguarding our communities and rapidly transitioning to a clean energy economy,” said Bachrach in an email.

His contender, Rattée maintained that Wet’suwet’en people, with whom she has spoken, have been supportive of CGL and LNG Canada.

The pledge can be viewed here

About the Author: Binny Paul

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