A community development agreement (CDA) between the Nunatukavut Community Council and Nalcor was signed on Dec. 4. Todd Russell, president of NCC, said the existence of the agreement is a sign of change in attitudes from government, both federal and provincial.
“I can only speak for the last 20 years and there’s no doubt in my mind this is the most progressive (federal) government we’ve ever had when it comes to indigenous peoples,” he told the Labradorian.
Russell said examples like the adoption of the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, the fact they have settled a number of outstanding court cases, and, even closer to home, the recognition of adjacency as a factor in fishing quotas.
Provincially, Russell said the administration has been “very open.”
“I’ve met with the premier and ministers frequently,” he said. “This agreement would never have happened if the province didn’t greenlight the process, that’s for sure. While the province wasn’t directly at the table there was no doubt they were monitoring and providing feedback.”
The change in leadership at Nalcor has been another factor in getting this CDA in place, he said. Russell said from the first meeting he had with Stan Marshall there was an openness to doing things differently and that Marshall told him it was a mistake that Nunatukavut wasn’t at the table early on in the process around Muskrat Falls.
“At the end of the day this agreement is about forming relationships that address our concerns on different project but also looks to the future, about doing things differently,” he said. “I think on the future side of things that’s where the greatest potential lies in this agreement.”
Speaking of the future, when asked by the Labradorian if this CDA signals a move towards recognition of the NCC land claim Russell said it’s a step in the right direction and the land claim is something he sees happening.
“For about a year and a bit we’ve been involved in an engagement process with the Federal government on our land claim,” he said. “I can only say it has been very positive and I feel we are much closer to a land claim acceptance and a table for negotiations. I feel very confident that this will happen.”
The CDA has a section specific to the community of Cartwright, which states that Nalcor appreciates the strategic importance of the town and will encourage industry to consider the community as a supply location. There are a number of benefits Cartwright will receive from the agreement. Those include a new fire truck, street light improvement, and funding for a study to identify opportunities to service the area for oil and gas exploration.
Russell told the Labradorian Cartwright had been in discussions with Nalcor for some time. This past summer a number of large transformers were moved through the community by Nalcor, bound for the Muskrat Falls project.
“They felt that their community was being utilized for the Muskrat Falls project. Things were going to happen in their community and they felt their community should certainly benefit in some way, shape or form,” he said.
Russell said when NCC indicated in June they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Nalcor (the precursor to this CDA) Cartwright council contacted them.
“They said ‘you guys have expertise in negotiations, maybe it would be better if we rolled some of our discussion and talks into your negotiations.’ That made sense and we agreed to do that,” he said. “Of course we had been in contact with the community throughout the process but invariably that section follows what the community’s intentions were.”
The town indicated they had an interest in potential offshore oil and gas on the explorations side and the service side, he said, which lined up with what Nalcor felt they also wanted to do. He said Cartwright had come up a number of times as a strategic location for the Labrador offshore oil and gas sector and for that, they would also investments in community infrastructure.
The CDA gives NCC $250,000 annually for five year specifically earmarked for infrastructure in the small town. Additionally NCC will receive $600,000 annually for the Investing in Nunatukavut Communities Infrastructure program, which provides infrastructure funding for NCC communities.
A potential commercial energy relationship is also a section of the CDA, specifically referring to alternative energy sources.
“Identifying a community, an opportunity, looking at it from a commercially sustainable perspective, it’s going to take some work,” Russell said. “There is a 12 month horizon on that, where we will identify opportunities, communities, and different types of energies.”
He said they haven’t worked out what the new potential company will look like but they’re very excite about the potential, since alternative energy is that’s been talked about in NCC communities for decades.
“People don’t like the diesel, but if you’re going to replace it is has to be reliable, economical, and fair to the consumer. All of these things have to be taken into account. It’s an exciting piece of work we’re going to be able to do together with Nalcor.”
They’re had communities where local industry wanted to come and it required extra diesel power and there were concerns whether there would be an overload on the generators, Russell said, so this is an opportunity not just for one community but for many communities. He cautioned that while alternative energy has been talked about for some time, it has to be viable.
“We want to make that whatever we do is based on a sound business model as well. It has to be affordable, reasonable, and sustainable. These types of things are what’s important.”