Canada's natural resources minister said the federal government's plan to streamline environmental-assessment requirements won't keep aboriginal leaders from having their say on resource projects before they go forward.
Speaking to reporters at an economics conference in Montreal, Joe Oliver said government authorities would be "bringing the aboriginal communities into the process at an earlier stage, so they can be aware of what's happening earlier, and become part of it in a more meaningful way."
In April, Canada's ruling Conservative government said it planned to overhaul Canada's environmental regulatory system, which it said was too complex and was slowing down development of major projects, such as pipelines and mines. The proposed changes include reducing the number of agencies responsible for reviewing projects, limiting regulators to one environmental review per project, and limiting the timeframe for reviews.
The plans were hatched after the U.S. government earlier this year rejected the initial application of TransCanada Corp.'s (TRP) Keystone oil pipeline from Canada amid strong pressure from environmental groups, who are also campaigning against oil pipeline projects such as Enbridge Inc.'s (ENB) Northern Gateway pipeline to British Columbia coast.
The plan has raised some eyebrows in resource-rich Canada, where opposition politicians and environmental groups have said the changes could weaken environmental protections or impinge on aboriginal rights. Aboriginal groups in Canada have the right to be consulted over proposals to develop resources on traditional lands where they have a legal right to harvest, hunt and fish - even if they don't own the land outright.
--Ed Welsch in Calgary contributed to this article.