Last October, 2015, the provincial government was consulting on the Alton Gas project with the Assembly of Chiefs of Nova Scotia. Sipekne'katik First Nation, that was to be most impacted by the project, had exercised it's right to represent itself rather than be represented by the Assembly, which meant the government had a duty to consult directly with Sipekne'katik.
The provincial government refused to have meaningful consultation with Sipekne'katik. At his recent press conference announcing that the province was going ahead to issue all permits required by the Alton Gas project, Minister Sansom baldly tried to insist that their few 'going-through-the-motion' gestures meant that Sipekne'katik had been consulted as well.
Those several months-long, backroom consultations with the Assembly of Chiefs included Alton Gas. It is now evident that beyond that official consultation process, the provincial government, very much led by the Energy Department, worked closely with Alton Gas to get the company through all the regulatory and consultative hoops.
Non-indigenous communities who live the closest to the project do not have Treaty Rights with which they can force an unwilling government to fill its duty to protect all of its citizens. The current Liberal government has, through the period of close coordination with Alton Gas, absolutely refused to even speak with or recognize the residents of Brentwood, Nova Scotia, 'ground zero' of the gas cavern project.
But our government certainly managed to take action back in October to protect the secrecy of its stealth efforts to remove pesky citizen obstacles and make Nova Scotia safe(r) for oil and gas industry development. The First Nation and non-aboriginal protests of the previous summer had gone quiet after the re-booting of the required Mi'Kmaq consultation process was announced.
Seemingly out of the blue at the time, an executive of Heritage Gas, owned by the same parent corporation as Alton Gas, announced that the project "would have all necessary permits by the end of the year".
How could Alton Gas have know this when we were in the middle of an aboriginal consultative process that was understood to be ongoing?
The government and Alton Gas immediately set to getting the script back on to "nothing happening here." In a Herald article titled: 'Gas storage project not in clear yet' the company's president said, “At this time, Alton Natural Gas Storage does not have confirmed timelines for receipt of the remaining project permits,”
Wth the benefit of hindsight, how carefully parsed that is: we do not have confirmed timelines yet. But that unguarded revelation by his corporate colleague turns out to have been a pretty close prediction.
As is evident in this discussion at the time among community and Mi'Kmaq activists, they were reassured that the consultation process was not being short-circuited. And this author received thie following statement from an Environment Department spokesperson:
As we have said in the past, the province would be prepared to permit operation of the brine storage facility when all outstanding requirements and approvals have been met and we are confident that issues affecting Aboriginal and treaty rights have been adequately addressed. Consultations on the project are progressing. We cannot speculate as to when the process will be complete.
Again with the benefit of hindsight: how well crafted to steer away from transparency and public scrutiny.
And what does this say about the Assembly of Chiefs negotiating and consultative body? The KMKNO only days ago issued a newsletter giving its blessing to the Alton Gas project going ahead. But months ago Alton Gas already knew that green light was essentially assured.