What makes a good partner?

I attended the LNG 101: Lunch and Learn session hosted by Steelhead LNG at the Mary Winspear Centre.

We heard the same rhetoric from Steelhead that we have heard before: the proposal is still in the early stages and that they are committed to building strong First Nations relationships.

The company promotes itself as having uniquely high standards in its interaction with First Nations, but what does that look like?

For starters, Steelhead decided to proceed with an announcement of the Malahat LNG proposal on August 20th when Malahat First Nation had no elected Chief and Council. They had resigned days earlier under a shroud of allegations. 

In the several public and private meetings with Steelhead LNG I have attended, Malahat has been the invisible partner. The only voices speaking on behalf of the community and the project have been Malahat staff, consultants or Steelhead LNG employees.

During the leadership vacuum in Malahat, Steelhead established the project. In the time leading up to the election they generated the momentum their project needed by announcing agreements with Williams to build their gas supply pipeline, and Hoegh LNG and Bechtel to draw up the project design.

All of this with only an acting Chief and growing opposition to the project in Malahat.

The decision to proceed with the project announcement when they did, fanned the turmoil in Malahat, a community at a political crossroads. They didn’t have an elected Chief and Council until November 2nd

New Councils inherit the decisions of their predecessors. The previous Council was in negotiations with Steelhead LNG for months, but they did not survive long enough to follow through on their relationship. Yet, Steelhead proceeded like nothing substantial had happened.

If Steelhead was truly committed to building a strong, respectful relationship they would have waited for the results of a proper democratic process to elect new leadership. They would have halted the project announcements until the community members had an elected Council in place.

That did not happen. Instead of pausing and giving the benefit of the doubt to the community and their incoming Chief and Council, Steelhead LNG pushed ahead vigorously.

Steelhead’s slick presentation is designed to convince the public that being a good partner with First Nations is one of their core values. Yet, from what I have seen and heard, and I have eyes and ears in many places, they are falling well short.

A good partner would have delayed the announcement and waited for the political storm and allegations to pass and a new Chief and Council to be elected. They had been negotiating for more than a year, what was another 90 days?

A good partner would take time to build relationships with the new Council, quietly behind closed doors, rather than cornering them, leaving them few options.

A good corporate partner would have insisted that the new Council lead the announcement of the Malahat LNG project. They would have ensured the Council was confident and able to speak excitedly and knowledgeably about the project. They would insist that when they host meetings that Council and membership were visible and participating in a meaningful way.

Steelhead’s approach is appalling. They are using the same familiar tactics that governments and businesses have used in the past, to push their own agenda.

Steelhead does not understand the complexity of the WSANEC territory, nor do they care about the relationships in the Saanich Inlet.

In my opinion, they have elbowed their way in, created hard feelings, anger and generally disrupted the families that have lived here for centuries. Is this the behaviour of a good corporate partner?

Over the last three months we have seen how Steelhead LNG operates. They have proven aggressive, sloppy and prone to making critical errors in judgment. We cannot allow this sort of company to have any authority over any part of the Saanich Inlet.

Photo Credit: Paul Hamilton (Flickr). Some rights reserved.