PRIME MINISTER Stephen Harper got it half right with the March 19 announcement of what’s called a “special federal representative” to clear the turbulent waters of unextinguished aboriginal rights and title laid against industrial development, specifically the transport and export of fuels of one type or another.
The federal government has not only a constitutional duty regarding aboriginal people, there are substantial legal precedents in place as well as political, economic and moral arguments justifying the appointment.
That, however, leaves the remainder of the population along the various pipeline routes and facility locations left without a direct connection to decision making and participation.
As much as it is correct to appoint a special federal representative for aboriginal issues, the scope and scale of development proposed or otherwise (what is it this week? $40 billion? $60 billion?) is such a tsunami affecting everyone that a case can be made for a similar position for the rest of the region’s population.
Various governments, mostly provincial, have experimented with specific offices for northern affairs before. None were successful. Most times they were regarded as public relations gestures and tossed aside with a change in political winds.
Federal natural resources minister Joe Oliver called the representative appointment a “seminal moment” in history. If that’s the case, let’s broaden that historical moment.