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Partnering for economic development: Lessons learned

Canadian natural gas warms our houses, heats our food and powers industry. Andy Calitz, CEO of LNG Canada, and Chief Councillor Ellis Ross, Haisla Nation, believe it’s time that Asian countries also have the opportunity to benefit from Canadian natural gas

When LNG Canada was in the planning stages of building a multi-billion dollar liquefied natural gas export project in northern British Columbia, Andy Calitz, CEO of LNG Canada, says he recognized it would not be for the faint-of-heart. People told him that Aboriginal Rights, environmental opposition and a lack of community acceptance could all be in the way of gaining social licence to proceed.

Calitz credits the relationship LNG Canada developed with Chief Councillor Ellis Ross and the Haisla Nation, and the willingness of both parties to learn from each other, as foundational to building community support for the proposed project and getting through a rigorous Environmental Assessment process. Calitz also says that the two parties had a shared ambition—to take a molecule of Canadian natural gas on a very long journey to Asia.

If the LNG Canada project moves into construction following a Final Investment Decision slated for the end of 2016, that molecule of gas would travel a day and a half from Dawson Creek via a 667 kilometre-long pipeline to Kitimat, arriving at the LNG Canada facility where, over a four-hour period, it would be cooled to -162 degrees Celsius, the temperature at which gas turns into a liquid and collapses volume 600-fold. LNG would then sit in an LNG tank for 24- hours and be loaded onto an LNG vessel, before sailing up the Douglas Channel to make the 8,000 km, 10-day journey to Japan, China and Korea.

“We come from different backgrounds, we have different objectives and goals, but our destinies are intertwined,” says Chief Councillor Ross, speaking of his relationship with both LNG Canada and the District of Kitimat, the community where the project would be located. “We all see the benefits that could come to all of us if a project like LNG Canada goes forward. Collectively, we need to get the message out that if the project gets developed, it’s not just one group that will benefit. It’s all of BC that benefits,” he adds.

“The journey of the molecule,” according to Calitz, “requires extraordinary cooperation. We listened, we adapted and we changed. We also helped the Haisla understand what we are trying to build using models, videos and a visit to Oman.”

Perhaps one of the most significant things LNG Canada did at the outset of the project was to accept Aboriginal Rights without question. “We believed that a portion of the value of the molecule needed to flow back to First Nations: to the Haisla, whose traditional territory the project was located on, and to the First Nations along the pipeline and marine routes.

Calitz acknowledges that listening takes time. So trying to rush the project through the required regulatory approval processes to be the first project to cross the finish line was not an objective he set for his team. “We came to Kitimat with a simple philosophy: We need to build the relationships before we build the project,” he says. “We never cared about being first, we only cared about being the best project we could be.”

LNG Canada listened to the Haisla long enough to understand the richness of what they brought from living on the land for thousands of years. Calitz appreciates Chief Councillor Ross and the Haisla for their willingness to take the time to help LNG Canada learn how things work in the area around the Kitamaat Village.

Chief Councillor Ross’ own journey to supporting a project like LNG Canada’s was more than a decade in the making. “When I first got elected to Council in 2003, I opposed any project that affected the land or the water—just on principle,” says Ross. “But the more I dug into our members’ social issues—suicide, 60% unemployment—the more I realized that these projects offer a solution government hasn’t provided.”

Ross says the conversation between the Haisla and LNG Canada started early and was built on trust.

“The pathway for development projects is littered with companies that didn’t proceed,” says Ross. “They didn’t include us, respect us or offer anything in return,” he suggests as the reasons why.

For Chief Councillor Ross, LNG represents an opportunity to “walk away from the Indian Act” and not rely on funding from government. “We need to solve our own social problems,” he says. Problems of higher rates of suicide and high unemployment – the kind of social issues in the way of his Nation thriving.

Ross believes LNG Canada took the time to research all of the mistakes that had been made in the past, and then didn’t repeat them. “They sat down and listened, and in return, we listened.”