News

First Nation Vote on Massive Gas Terminal Called Out by Band Members

Sixty-five percent voted in favour of moving forward with Canada's largest development proposal. Off-reserve members say poll was so rushed they didn't get ballots in time.
August 27, 2016, 6:20pm

Lax Kw'alaams photo by Ash Kelly

It's official, Lax Kw'alaams First Nation voted 65 percent in favour of "successful outcomes." At least that's how negotiations for a massive liquefied natural gas terminal were characterized in a recent poll conducted by the band's council.

Pacific Northwest LNG is planning a $36-billion LNG pipeline and shipping terminal for the northern British Columbia coast, an area where up to a billion salmon pass through every year. Lax Kw'alaams is the last nation that is legally required to give consent, having voted near-unanimously against the project in May 2015.

Advertisement

The new poll asked members if they supported "concluding agreements" without mentioning LNG or the company: "Provided the environment is protected, do you support council concluding agreements to maximize benefits for Lax Kw'alaams members and continue discussions with government and proponents to achieve successful outcomes for Lax Kw'alaams?" reads the ballot.

Of 812 ballots received, 532 were in favour of continuing talks with Pacific Northwest LNG, 65.5 percent of voters. When asked for comment, Mayor John Helin wouldn't say how the poll would be used, or whether it counts as consent from the band.

Lax Kw'alaams members opposed to the project called out the compressed voting timeline, and lack of participation from about two-thirds of members. "We have at least 3,000 members in Lax Kw'alaams and only 800 voted," band member Dean Febbo told VICE. "What a joke."

Sandra Ohman, a band member living in Surrey, said she didn't know a vote was happening until late last week. The vote was announced August 16, with polling stations open on August 22, 23, and 24. "I wasn't even expecting a voting package, I was expecting an information package," Ohman told VICE. "Who would have thought they would try to get a vote done on a week's notice?"

Ohman said she only heard about the vote through her older brother, who received a ballot in the mail. Ohman immediately called the band office, and told them she had moved in the last year, but didn't receive the voting package before ballots were due on Wednesday, August 24.

Advertisement

Ohman said she managed to get an extra ballot from another family member, but worries other off-reserve members would be left in the dark. "They didn't give enough time for something like that."

Read More: Did This First Nation Band Consent to a Massive Gas Terminal or Not?

Since the vote, VICE reviewed the information package that came with ballots. It includes a personal appeal from Helin that suggests the project will go ahead with or without consent.

"We have been clear with all levels of government, plus Petronas, that we do not agree with it being built at this site," Helin wrote. "With that being said, in our meetings with the government and the proponent the feeling was that they could push it forward without our consent, and where would that leave us."

"My fear is that they could do this without us… To that end we have undertaken the task of engaging with the governments and the proponent to see what we would benefit if members agreed to look at this project further."

Previously, Premier Christy Clark told media the band already voted "massively in favour" of the $36-billion pipeline and terminal in spring of 2016. A six-week investigation by Discourse Media found no vote took place.

Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter.