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Feds won't seek 'unanimity' on pipeline

Chris Windeyer
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 24/06) - New Indian and Northern Affairs minister Jim Prentice wrapped up his first tour of the North last week, but stopped short of making any specific policy announcements.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Jim Prentice, minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, speaks to reporters in Yellowknife on Thursday. Prentice toured the North as minister for the first time last week, but made no policy announcements. - Chris Windeyer/NNSL photo

In Norman Wells, Prentice told the Circle of Northern Leaders that the government of Prime Minster Stephen Harper will balance economic development with social and environmental concerns when it comes to the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline.

But the minister made it clear he doesn't want to see the consultation process bog down if it doesn't receive universal support from First Nations in the Territory.

The Deh Cho First Nation is one group that doesn't support the pipeline.

"We intend to consult, but that consultation will be followed by decision making," Prentice said. "Our decisions will reflect the best interest of Canada and the consensus of the majority of Aboriginal and public government stakeholders, (but) we do not intend to convert the process of consultation into a quest for unanimity."

Speaking to reporters in Yellowknife, Prentice also said he supports the concept of a socio-economic fund to offset impacts of the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline, though he didn't commit to the $500 million figure promised by the previous Liberal government.

The fund requires enabling legislation in Ottawa to be passed before it goes ahead.

"You'll have to stay tuned," Prentice said.

The minister also touched on payments for First Nation elders awaiting compensation for their time spent in residential schools. Prentice had little concrete to offer elders.

The minister said the compensation deal announced by the Liberal government in November 2005 required a final document from all parties involved in the settlement, and approval from courts in seven provinces. To date, neither of those things has happened, though Prentice said he expects to see a copy of the final agreement "in the next few days."

"We'll be in a position following that to deal with issues such as interim payments and the court approval process."

Prentice's Northern trip wrapped up in Whitehorse on Friday.