Overview of Nechako Lakes riding and aboriginal relations 2014-2015

Interview with MLA John rustad, minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation

MLA John Rustad

Last year brought good news and bad news for the Nechako Lakes riding.

Thomson Creek Metals’ Mt. Milligan north of Fort St. James reached full production, a new power plant at West Fraser saw mill started operation in Fraser Lake, Babine Forest Products opened in Burns Lake which also saw the official opening of a newly rebuilt hospital. The downside to 2014 was the West Fraser saw mill closing in Houston, New Gold’s Blackwater project proposed for 120 km south of Vanderhoof was delayed and the suspension of Endako mine in Fraser Lake.

“The continued transition in Houston and support for Fraser Lake are both at the top of the list in the riding,” MLA John Rustad said,who also mentioned Vanderhoof and Houston’s need of new water towers, projects Mr. Rustad will also focus on this year.  “Fort St. James’ highway also needs a repaved surface in which I’m hoping to get approved and I also recognize Fort St. James’ need for a replacement hospital which I will also be pushing throughout 2015,” Mr. Rustad said.

In Vanderhoof Mr. Rustad continues to advocate for a new training facility and pool. He is also trying to finalize community forests for Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake before year end. Fort St. James, Burns Lake and Houston already have community forests which have helped those communities tremendously, he said.

“Typically a community forest would be relatively close to the community but with the impact from the mountain pine beetle they may not be as close as some would like. But I’m hopeful to get [Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake] a community forest sometime this year,” Mr. Rustad said.

As MLA for the Nechako Lakes riding, Mr. Rustad is also the minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation. His unique position working for the provincial and federal government has allowed him to be a part of a landmark year (2014) for aboriginal relations.

“We signed 30-40 new agreements between the province and First Nations. The [most momentous] being the supreme court decision for the Tsilhqot’in people. Known as ‘The William Case’ –  the first case in Canada that granted aboriginal title to a track of crown land based on the Canadian constitution.

“It is that signing event that will shape future relations between the province and federal government and First Nations in BC,” Mr. Rustad said. “It took 25 years and $30 million for that case to get to the supreme court. The treaty process is long but I would like to have conversations with First Nations on how we can excel that and gain longer-term reconciliation. 2015 will be about having that conversation.”

There are 13 First Nations in the Nechako Lakes riding, 15 if you count overlap territories. The ministry has signed 19 economic and community development revenue sharing agreements in the province, 175 forest consultant revenue sharing agreements in the last four years and 25 clean energy revenue sharing agreements with independent power projects, a majority within the past year.

Right now the ministry’s focus is LNG and pipeline benefit agreements. The ministry has announced signed agreements with eight First Nations in northern BC, eight of 20 that are on board in the north, Mr. Rustad said. “Some of the benefits are one time monies, some are full-time benefits, some are training and others are through our Environmental Stewardship Initiative which we hope will become a legacy for LNG. It’s the first of it’s kind in Canada,” Mr. Rustad said. “With this we went to First Nations and said ‘help us develop this’, not this is what were doing.”

The hope through this LNG opportunity is to utilize it as a tool to have First Nations get more engaged economically and see benefits that are lasting.

“We want to see change in the social economic conditions we see on many reserves. They get money federally but the ESI is designed to get away from the government handouts and get First Nations engaged economically,” Mr. Rustad said, who explained 2015 will hopefully see the completion of many more signed agreements.

“2015 poses to be an important year to get final investment decisions on LNG and we may even see construction this year if not in 2016,” Mr. Rustad said.