Resource Rulers: Fortune and Folly on Canada’s Road to Resources
Bill Gallagher: strategist - lawyer - author
An unsolicited email arrived in my mailbox from a Calgary energy executive. Here it is in its entirety: ‘And two examples in the last week that continue to prove your theory - Prosperity mine gets hit again and Athabasca Oil Sands goes ahead.’
This was how I first heard about the New Prosperity Mine’s (second) federal rejection. It’s encouraging to see my theory - that it’s Resource Rulers who determine project outcomes - being embraced by industry players in real time. Of course they want to improve their chances of project success and now actively track my RR win/loss consequences.
This email (notionally) kicks-off my countdown re the next 10 outcomes - a fitting lead-in for 2014 - during which I believe we’ll see the native legal winning streak hit the 200 mark. New Prosperity’s demise is win # 191. But the Athabasca Oil Sands access settlement is not counted even though it arose as a direct result of the local First Nation winning an important procedural ruling at the appeal level. Thus it too is a key win!
I’m also predicting that 2014 will witness the climax of the rise of native empowerment. I believe matters are coming to a head on several key resource projects that have drawn concerted native opposition over the last few years. In this context the native legal winning streak acts as a pressure release valve; better the courts directing traffic than police tactical units. Recent events in New Brunswick demonstrate just how limited legal remedies are in effectively clearing the road to resources.
But it’s the juxtaposition of these two projects in early 2014 - together in time and space - that signals the zero-sum outcomes that lie ahead. Here’s the formula in straightforward terms: an oilsands energy project that garners native support gets the go ahead; while a proposed mine that ‘dug a hole’ for itself in the face native opposition gets rejected. The common denominator - and key component - being the native project endorsement.
That means that in almost every province and territory, by now, there’ll have been a major project, in almost every segment of the extractive industries, which has crashed and burned on account of strategic mismanagement of the crown/corporate/native relationship.
The overall effect is now taking a huge toll on our regional and national economies; and this sequence remains the biggest under-reported business story of the last decade.
So that energy executive who flipped me the ‘heads-up’ email has properly connected the dots - and none too soon given what lies ahead.