Ottawa names lawyer to talk energy with native groups

Tue Mar 19, 2013 6:13pm EDT
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By Jeffrey Jones

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed a British Columbia lawyer to gather views of native groups across the Western province on energy development as the industry struggles to gain acceptance of multibillion-dollar pipelines that would vastly increase oil exports.

However, Harper's new representative for West Coast energy infrastructure, Doug Eyford, insisted on Tuesday his role will not be to cajole holdouts into supporting contentious projects.

Aboriginal opposition to such proposals as Enbridge Inc's C$6 billion ($5.8 billion) Northern Gateway pipeline has been a major stumbling block to the Harper Conservatives' aim of shipping large volumes of oil sands-derived crude to the Pacific Coast to be exported to Asia as a way to increase turns.

Eyford is a veteran of federal negotiations with Indian groups, known in Canada as First Nations, on self-government. Over the next three months, he will meet with communities affected by proposed pipelines, liquefied natural gas plants and marine terminals.

Eyford will issue a draft report to Harper on June 28 and the final document on November 29, Joe Oliver, Canada's natural resources minister, said in a speech in Terrace, British Columbia.

His appointment comes a day after Ottawa said it planned a series of measures aimed at improving tanker safety as proposed pipeline projects point to a major increase in coastal traffic.

Eyford said he has not been asked to advocate on behalf of the government or the energy industry in favor of specific industrial developments.

"My role and responsibility is to provide an accurate and complete report to the prime minister on what I'm told by the people who I interact and engage with as part of my responsibilities," he said.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands to speak during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 19, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie