Lumber loaded on trailer of truck.

A meeting concerning environmental issues in Canada has resurfaced the issue of First Nations veto rights. While Liberal politicians largely support the granting of such rights and Conservative politicians tend to stand against it, the real debate is argued outside of meetings between government ministers. The issue at hand in the minds of many Canadians is whether First Nations, in the near future, will be able to veto energy and construction projects that would otherwise benefit Canadians socially and economically.

There is a historical precedent for extraction and building plans on government land being blocked by Nations leaders, whether it concerns pipelines or the expansion of highways. This precedence is set with a much more limited involvement in decision-making than what some Canadian politicians are proposing. One of the major questions surrounding the issue is whether or not these veto rights already exist under the current law. Some argue Nations leaders may already legally possess the ability to reject commercial and government initiatives out of hand.

The concern, then, is that increased input from First Nations leaders will further stunt the growth of certain industries in Canada, primarily forestry and extraction. Full veto rights in the future might completely stop projects that would have been limited but possible under the current policy. The question of veto power, however, can be framed another way: the ability to prevent or allow industry efforts on government land in Canada is essential for the Nations if they are to be full participants in the future of the country.

In a recent statement from Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, there will be a new “nation to nation” interaction between the Canadian government and First Nations leaders on all environmental and energy issues. What this means at the moment, and what it might mean for Canadian extraction and forestry business in the future, remains to be seen.