OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will give aboriginal groups more say in discussions over natural resource projects located on their territory, which should help pave the way for major pipelines and mines, the country’s new energy minister said on Monday.
The Liberal government, which took power last month, had pledged to toughen environmental assessments that critics said had been weakened under the former Conservative government.
Asked whether the new assessment process meant aboriginal interests could block development of a pipeline, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr declined to give a direct response.
“We will consult leaders, we will consult communities, we will seek consensus,” he said in an interview.
Low prices for oil and other commodities have hammered Canada’s natural resource sector, which is shedding jobs.
The approval of at least two proposed pipelines - TransCanada Corp’s Energy East and the expansion of Kinder Morgan Inc’s Trans Mountain Pipeline - has been bogged down by protests, with aboriginal groups saying they have been marginalized by current rules for assessing projects.
Proponents say the pipelines are needed so Canadian oil can reach tidewater and fetch higher prices.
The Liberals stress the need for what they call “social license” and more consultations. Carr said he had forged close relationships with aboriginal communities and their leaders during his time with a business council in Manitoba.
“You have to go to communities genuinely and - in an open way - listen to what communities are saying. And that consultative process itself lays the foundation for community support for projects,” he said.
Carr repeated the government’s line that “no proponent of a pipeline that is currently under review will be asked to go to square one.”
There would, however, be a transition process to the new rules, he said, though he declined to provide details.
Editing by Bernadette Baum