Advisory board chair Stockwell Day calls First Nations appointments a ‘good start’
Just two short hours after being replaced by Perry Bellegarde as chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Shawn Atleo was unveiled as the new senior advisor, partnerships, for Vancouver-based Pacific Future Energy Corp.—one of three companies bidding to build an oil refinery on B.C.’s northwest coast.
Atleo made the surprise appearance at a scheduled speech by former federal Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day, Pacific Future’s advisory board chair, to the Vancouver Board of Trade on Wednesday. “I have 25 years of experience, the last 15 years directly, in elected politics,” Atleo told the audience in a Q&A after Day’s speech. “Pacific Future is a very important recovery program for recovering politicians,” he said to laughter.
The 47-year-old Vancouver Island native was recently tapped by B.C. Premier Christy Clark to travel the province to engage in “dialogue sessions” about various priorities between First Nations and local and business leaders. At Pacific Future, Atleo joins the management team to help the company build cooperation with B.C. First Nations and bring the project—billed as a “near-zero emissions” refinery—to life.
“I had the privilege, over the last five-and-a-half years—and over a decade at the Assembly of First Nations—to travel to most of the First Nations communities across the country. The little bit that I learned about energy was just enough to be dangerous—and just dangerous enough to join this team. This project doesn’t just have local implications but Canadian and global implications.
“This is about creating a real conversation, as opposed to it being either/or,” he added. “This is about recognizing First Nations as governments—and those conversations, I’m really pleased to say, are going extremely well, because the approach is one that First Nations have been looking for for a long, long time.”
Day, in his speech, also took the opportunity to announce that Ovide Mercredi, another former AFN leader, and Chief Robert Louie of the Westbank First Nation would be joining Pacific Future’s advisory board.
“Some may be saying, ‘That’s a lot of First Nations involvement.’ When I hear that comment, I go, ‘Yeah, it’s a good start,’” said the former Harper cabinet minister. “We believe profoundly, as Shawn will tell you, that involvement with First Nations has to be more than going through the motions. It has to be something that’s heartfelt and believed. We hear about the Williams case and some people talking about that, saying it’s really created a lot of roadblocks and obstacles…. We don’t see that as presenting obstacles. We see that as pointing to a way forward—and Shawn has been particularly helpful with that.”
The Pacific Future refinery, if it goes ahead, would cost $10 billion to build and would process 200,000 barrels of bitumen a day. The company expects a projected $1 billion EBITDA per year from the refinery, and Day argued that the economic conditions—including the U.S.’s recent push to energy self-sufficiency and a burgeoning Asian consumer market—make it the right time to build Canada’s first refinery since the 1970s. “The refineries that are running now have been running for 50, 60, 75 years—and they’re still making money,” said Day. “We say it’s time for Canada. It’s time for all the people of Canada. And it’s time to put our First Nations people front and centre.”
Matt O’Grady | Dec 10, 2014