The Liberal government in Ottawa has inserted a global native rights ideal into the approval process for C$3.4 billion ($2.6 billion) in projects by TransCanada Corp.’s western pipeline grid, Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. (NGTL).

“The Crown is committed…to implement the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” according to a new policy paper filed with the National Energy Board (NEB) by Natural Resources Canada and circulated among aboriginal communities.

“The Crown recognizes that meaningful engagement and consultation with Indigenous Peoples aims to secure their free, prior and informed consent in matters that affect them and their rights. This is what the overall consultation process for this project is meant to achieve.”

In the policy paper the word “project” refers to NGTL’s construction applications for three expansions of its 24,000-kilometer (14,400-mile) natural gas supply collection and delivery grid in Alberta and British Columbia.

The continuous facilities addition program would serve forecast growth of Western Canada gas production by 42% to 22.5 Bcf/d, with three-quarters of the traffic concentrated in the NGTL network.

The growth agenda is led by the 2021 NGTL System Expansion Project to increase service at eight locations by adding 344 kilometers (206 miles) of 48-inch diameter pipeline and three compressors for C$2.3 billion ($1.8 billion).

For completion in 2022, NGTL also has filed applications for the North Corridor and Edson Mainline projects to serve thermal oilsands plants and southern markets by adding 166 kilometers (100 miles) of pipe and a compressor for C$1.14 billion ($855 million).

In the NEB regulatory arena, NGTL is defending its plans by reciting native consultation records. NGTL noted that its expansions only require temporary construction disruptions chiefly on established rights-of-way.

However, the Liberal government’s adoption of the UN rights charter has inspired tribal filings at the NEB that assert traditional territory claims far beyond residential reserves created by 19th century Indian treaties. The native reports recount disruption by gas pipelines and drilling across Western Canada.

The southern Alberta Blood Tribe (Kainai First Nation), for instance, said its forefathers signed a treaty as “a means to make a partnership, to share their traditional territory, not to give up their land or cease using their land.”

According to the native review of NGTL’s plans, “The impacts of the project to Blood Tribe’s traditional land use, cultural heritage and socio-economic well-being should be considered in the context of the cumulative impacts resulting from Blood Tribe’s historic displacement from its traditional lands and the ongoing effects of pipeline development, mining and other industrial activities in its traditional territory.”

In the Ottawa political arena, the UN native rights declaration, known as UNDRIP for short, figures in a hotly contested Liberal legislation package nicknamed “the no-pipelines bill” by industry groups that include the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.

The package would widen project environmental reviews to include community and gender equity effects with an Impact Assessment Act; impose a northern Pacific coast tanker ban; and establish UNDRIP as Canada’s native relations standard.

Natural Resources Canada told the NEB its commitment to UNDRIP before the legislation passes resulted from the appeal court verdict that overturned the federal cabinet approval last August of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion.

In the NGTL expansion cases the federal department said its Major Projects Management Office (MPMO) will monitor native interests and ensure they are “appropriately addressed and accommodated” by every step in the regulatory process.

However, the commitment stops short of deriving a Canadian tribal veto power over industrial projects from UNDRIP’s demand for “free, prior and informed consent.” A policy door remains open to grant contested approvals, provided only that native opponents are given full hearings and explanations.

“The Crown will make accommodations where appropriate; otherwise, it will provide a reasonable rationale to Indigenous groups,” according to the native consultation policy.