* British Columbia's Doug Eyford gets new role
* To issue reports to Harper in June, November
* Insists role is not to persuade natives
By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta, March 19 Canadian Prime
Minister Stephen Harper has appointed a British Columbia lawyer
to gather views of native groups across the Western province on
energy development as the industry struggles to gain acceptance
of multibillion-dollar pipelines that would vastly increase oil
However, Harper's new representative for West Coast energy
infrastructure, Doug Eyford, insisted on Tuesday his role will
not be to cajole holdouts into supporting contentious projects.
Aboriginal opposition to such proposals as Enbridge Inc's
C$6 billion ($5.8 billion) Northern Gateway pipeline
has been a major stumbling block to the Harper Conservatives'
aim of shipping large volumes of oil sands-derived crude to the
Pacific Coast to be exported to Asia as a way to increase turns.
Eyford is a veteran of federal negotiations with Indian
groups, known in Canada as First Nations, on self-government.
Over the next three months, he will meet with communities
affected by proposed pipelines, liquefied natural gas plants and
Eyford will issue a draft report to Harper on June 28 and
the final document on Nov. 29, Joe Oliver, Canada's natural
resources minister, said in a speech in Terrace, British
His appointment comes a day after Ottawa said it planned a
series of measures aimed at improving tanker safety as proposed
pipeline projects point to a major increase in coastal traffic.
Eyford said he has not been asked to advocate on behalf of
the government or the energy industry in favor of specific
"My role and responsibility is to provide an accurate and
complete report to the prime minister on what I'm told by the
people who I interact and engage with as part of my
responsibilities," he said.
The federal government has a constitutional requirement to
consult with and accommodate native communities when
developments will affect their lands, and some aboriginal
leaders have suggested their rights and title to lands may
amount to veto power.
This has presented legal risks to proponents of Northern
Gateway, which would ship 525,000 barrels a day of Alberta oil
to the coastal port of Kitimat, British Columbia. Regulators are
due to decide whether to approve the project by the end of this
year following hearings that began at the beginning of 2012.
Oliver said native people have much to contribute to natural
resource development, as they bring traditional knowledge that
offers better understanding of environmental impacts and
remediation measures. He pointed out that the industry supports
32,000 aboriginal jobs in Canada.
Still, some groups, such as the Coastal First Nations and
Yinka Dene Alliance, are staunchly opposed to oil pipelines,
saying they fear the risks of oil spills as well as potential
loss of traditional ways.
Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations,
an alliance of nine groups, said it appears the federal
government realized it needed someone on the ground with
experience in native rights, title and consultation, though it
is starting the process very late.
"We don't have a lot of optimism around that, but knowing
Mr. Eyford, we think that he's a person who is going to be
candid with the prime minister," Sterritt told Reuters. "We're
happy that he's not reporting at a lower level. We think this
needs to be dealt with at the highest level."
He stressed that the appointment will not lead his people to
drop their opposition to the Northern Gateway project.
British Columbia's burgeoning LNG industry appears to have
wider support among native groups, some of which are equity
partners in proposed multibillion-dollar projects.
Eyford said he did not know if his final report will be made