Employment Opportunity for First Nations in the Energy Sector is Significant. What More Can/Should the Federal Government do in this Area?

Views From Our Political Commentators: NDP, Conservative and Liberal

BY KATHLEEN MONK

Canada is an energy-rich country and if we want this sector to continue to grow we need government, business and labour organizations to commit to engage with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities over the long term. The failure to approach these communities as genuine partners in economic development has badly strained this relationship. In his acceptance speech, newly elected AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde stated that meaningful consultation, benefits and jobs for First Nations are a priority and business-as-usual is “not on,” something the Supreme Court Tsilhqot’in decision also underscored last year.

With an investment in training and education it’s possible to address the sector’s labour shortages by employing Aboriginal people, who already reside in the remote and northern communities where energy projects take place. But first, government and business need to work in partnership with Aboriginal organizations, training and education systems to create long-term, sustainable jobs.

“Government and business need to work in partnership with Aboriginal organizations, training and education systems to create long-term, sustainable jobs.”

Energy sector projects are developed over multiple years, not months, which means that business and government are able to project future workforce needs. Short-term employment projects of a few months duration may be fine for general labour jobs but not for the skilled work involved in bringing energy projects to market.

The federal government is responsible for First Nations education but woefully underfunds schools. A good start would be for the government to commit in its 2015 budget to equitable funding for First Nations kindergarten to grade 12, something the Assembly of First Nations has long called for. That will give those students a credible base on which to build the workplace skills employers need.

“Canada is an energy-rich country and if we want this sector to continue to grow we need government, business and labour organizations to commit to engage with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.”

“Canada is an energy-rich country and if we want this sector to continue to grow we need government, business and labour organizations to commit to engage with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.”

For Métis students, programs to encourage them to enter skilled trades programs or to take STEM courses at the post-secondary level are needed.

Another challenge in creating employment opportunities for Aboriginal people is that the Conservative government hasn’t invested enough time in analyzing what training and skills programs work for stakeholders. Business requires consistency and stability in program funding, and it doesn’t help when there are cuts to successful programs like the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership Program (ASEP). For the energy sector to succeed, business needs support in recruiting, educating and developing a workforce within the timelines of each project – work that Sector Councils did before the Conservatives cut their funding. The federal government should commit to restore funding to Sector Councils that was cut in 2011.

“It is vital that business continues to play an active role in training and building the skills of its labour force.”

It is vital that business continues to play an active role in training and building the skills of its labour force. To create long-term employment that benefits communities and the economy, business also needs to pay attention to how people can develop transferable skills, so they can move across sectors, as the needs require. Sadly Canadian companies are failing at in-house training, an issue brought into focus at the recent Good Jobs Summit, hosted by Unifor in October 2014.

For Canada’s energy sector to grow it is imperative that opportunities for Aboriginal peoples’ long-term, sustainable employment also grow. If we fail to create those opportunities and those good sustainable jobs, Canada’s overall prosperity will fail as well.

Kathleen Monk is a senior communications strategist and frequent media commentator on politics and public affairs. She was the catalyst behind the Broadbent Institute, as its founding Executive Director, and served as spokesperson and media director for Jack Layton’s 2011 election campaign, which resulted in the best election result in the party’s 50-year history.


BY TIM POWERS

BY TIM POWERS

Energy development in most of Canada can only truly happen when Aboriginal people are true partners in the enterprise. The Aboriginal population is both the fastest growing and youngest part of Canada’s population.

Over $315 billion in major resource developments have been identified on Aboriginal land. This presents Canada’s Aboriginal communities with an enormous opportunity to capitalize on Canada’s energy industry.

Cooperation among industry, government and Aboriginal communities has gotten off to a good start, and many Aboriginal communities are beginning to see the benefits. However, considerable work still needs to be done to fully realize the potential that exists with Canada’s energy development and its Aboriginal communities. Through a commitment to educating and training Aboriginal Canadians and a partnership that is built upon trust, inclusion, and respect, the Canadian Government and Aboriginal communities will both reap the benefits of a strong Canadian energy sector.

In 2009, The Federal Government launched Canada’s Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development, the Framework was designed to strengthen partnerships among Aboriginal groups, federal, provincial and Territorial Governments, as well as the private sector in an effort to foster greater Aboriginal economic development.

“In 2009, the Federal Government launched Canada’s Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development.”

“In 2009, the Federal Government launched Canada’s Federal Framework for Aboriginal Economic Development.”

Ensuring that Aboriginal Canadians have the skills and knowledge to be adequately prepared to enter the workforce in the energy sector has been and will continue to be essential to the industry’s development. Under the 2009 framework, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) (now Employment and Social Development Canada [ESDC]) launched its Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ASETS). The strategy is specifically designed to link training needs with labour market demands. The new strategy provides $1.68 billion in funding over five years. In 2010-11 ASETS saw 49,000 clients completing programs or services to help transition to work, 7,000 clients return to school and 14,000 clients employed. A continued commitment to investing in the development of training Aboriginal Canadians through programs such as ASETS will be necessary to meet the demands of the labour market in the energy industry.

In December 2013, Natural Resources Canada released a report called Forging Partnerships and Building Relationships: Aboriginal Canadians and Energy Development. The purpose of the report was to identify approaches to meet Canada’s twin goals of expanding energy markets and increasing Aboriginal participation in the economy. Among the recommendations made was a greater effort to include Aboriginal communities in all aspects of Canada’s energy resource development in order to build trust between the stakeholders.

“Investing in the development of training Aboriginal Canadians through programs such as ASETS will be necessary to meet the demands of the labour market in the energy industry.”

“Investing in the development of training Aboriginal Canadians through programs such as ASETS will be necessary to meet the demands of the labour market in the energy industry.”

As important as development of human capital is, no relationship will be able to succeed unless there is trust between all parties involved. The relationship among the Federal Government, industry, and Aboriginal communities is no different, but throughout history this relationship has been shaky. As energy development in Aboriginal territories begins, there must be meaningful outcome focused discussion by all parties, but particularly the government. There has to be a willingness from Government and industry to listen to Aboriginal groups and strike deals where all partners prosper. Aboriginal groups have extensive knowledge of the land and a huge stake in the environmental sustainability of these projects. In order to see this through, Aboriginal communities need to be consulted properly and legitimately on all facets of these projects.

All parties will win in energy development when they all play together to profit.

Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing partner of Abacus Data, both headquarter are in Ottawa. Mr. Powers appears regularly on CBC’s Power and Politics program as well as on VOCM in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


BY ROB SILVER

BY ROB SILVER

When people talk about First Nations employment opportunities in the energy sector, they often conflate four different, though related things in an often-unhelpful way.

The first is the Crown’s duty to consult. With too many energy projects, and with too many government statements, the thinking around what the duty entails seems to have devolved into “we have thrown offers of jobs and/or money at the affected First Nations groups, thus we have fulfilled our duty to consult”.

Needless to say, the Supreme Court has been very clear, and it is reasonable to expect the courts to be clear once again that this “throw some money at the ‘problem’” approach to consultations is insufficient and has the real potential to doom projects.

The second is getting social license from First Nations groups to support energy projects – separate and apart from the constitutional obligation to consult. Here, showing First Nations groups that there are long-term, well paying employment opportunities related to energy projects can be an extremely effective means of gaining community support. In no way is this a “silver bullet” but an important component.

That having been said, we need to recognise that First Nations communities have serious, real issues with many energy projects. The notion that in some of those cases any amount of jobs could placate those concerns is rather condescending of the nature of those concerns.

According to Silver, Ottawa should look at opportunities to energize the North with natural gas.

According to Silver, Ottawa should look at opportunities to energize the North with natural gas.

The third is the energy sector is not the answer to First Nations poverty in Canada. The energy sector isn’t the answer to the lack of clean drinking water in too many First Nations communities. The energy sector isn’t the answer to decades and decades of failed government policy.

There are opportunities for First Nations communities to participate more fully in energy projects but it is rather fascicle to suggest the energy sector is the real solution to these systemic issues.

The Kelowna Accord would have gone a long, long way towards substantially addressing many of these systemic challenges. Without getting too partisan, the current government for a variety of reasons has not addressed them over the last decade since their cancellation of the Kelowna Accord.

But finally, it is clearly in the energy sector’s interest to employ more First Nation workers in the energy sector. Given an aging workforce, employee shortages, the political reality of temporary foreign workers and the social license issues discussed above, the sector itself – not government – needs to continue to take the lead to train and integrate more First Nations workers.

In sum, there are countless things that the Government of Canada needs to be doing to help First Nations in this country, including with respect to jobs. When it comes to hiring more First Nations into the energy sector though, it’s the industry first and foremost that needs to be out front.

Rob Silver is a Partner at Crestview Strategy, a government relations agency with offices in Toronto and Ottawa. A longtime Liberal, Rob has worked with clients in all aspects of Canada’s energy sector. He appears regularly on CBC’s flagship Power and Politics to discuss Canadian Politics. He is also featured on the Fantasy Sports Network – the first ever 24-hour Fantasy Sports TV Network.