• Giordano Baratta

Pipeline projects offer solutions to First Nations unemployment and income gaps in northern B.C.

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

Originally published June 17, 2020.

In a June 2020 study, the Canadian Energy Centre (CEC) utilized data available from Statistics Canada to examine the economic status of First Nations communities along the Coastal GasLink pipeline project route, a 670-kilometre project that, when complete, will transport natural gas from Chetwynd in northeast British Columbia to the export terminal at Kitimat on the B.C. coastline.

2,500 First Nations are expected to be employed in the project, and the Coastal GasLink consortium has offered the 20 First Nations along the route a 10% ownership stake in the massive project. This project will be key in bridging the gap in employment and income between First Nations communities and the rest of the country.

Presently, the employment rate for those who self-identify as Aboriginal in British Columbia and live on-reserve lags behind the provincial average of British Columbia as a whole (42.7% in the former, 59.6% in the latter). The Coastal GasLink project has entered into benefits agreements with those First Nations communities whose employment rates fall well below the average of all BC First Nations reserves. Examples include the Cheslatta Carrier, Blueberry River, and Haisla Nations, whose employment rates lie below 42.7% at 23.1, 29 and 33.7%, respectively.

Direct work on pipeline development and other resource extraction projects has tremendous untapped potential to create jobs in those aboriginal communities where employment is at its scarcest—a claim echoed by Chief Greg Desjarlais of the Frog Lake First Nation in Alberta.

On a similar note, the unemployment rate of aboriginals on-reserve is far higher than the B.C. average (22.3% compared to 6.7%). By partnering with First Nations communities that have higher unemployment rates than the provincial on-reserve average like Blueberry River, Nak’azdli and Yekooche (28.6%, 31.5% and 50% respectively), the work that will come with the development of the Coastal GasLink project will help to uplift those hardest-hit communities.

Only five of the 20 First Nations with a benefits agreement with Coastal GasLink published employment income statistics (per year). Regardless, ranging from $30,000 to $43,000, all five of these communities maintain an annual median employment income significantly below the British Columbia average ($54,000) due to their remoteness from the economic opportunities found in urban metropoles like Vancouver or Victoria. By becoming stakeholders in multi-billion dollar LNG projects like Coastal GasLink, these remote First Nations communities will gain access to newfound income streams where there may be few others available.

Lastly, the median incomes for indigenous British Columbians who have jobs relevant to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project include construction work ($49,000), pipeline work ($118,000) and oil and gas extraction ($143,000). All of these positions are associated with higher incomes than the aboriginal (BC) median rate ($45,000). In short, if more First Nations in British Columbia are able to gain jobs in these three industries, they will achieve higher incomes, raising the median employment rate for the better.

Coastal GasLink and other such pipeline projects (such as Eagle Spirit) will provide access to revenue streams for First Nations with benefits agreements. These jobs associated with the energy sector can mitigate low employment rates and high unemployment rates, in addition to increasing aboriginal incomes, which presently fall well below the provincial average of British Columbians.

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