"A Missed Opportunity for Reconciliation" ... Heiltsuk First Nation disappointed after Federal contract award on ocean towing
The seas are significantly more choppy in relations between the Heiltsuk First Nation and the Federal Government today, as Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett outlined the disappointment in her community at a decision to award a three year Ocean towing contract to Atlantic Towing Limited.
The announcement by the Federal Government was released yesterday, outlining the details of the lease arrangement with the New Brunswick based company.
Following an open and competitive process, Atlantic Towing Limited of Saint John, New Brunswick, has been awarded a three-year contract worth $67,013,720 (including taxes) for the lease of two emergency offshore towing vessels that will operate in the waters off the coast of British Columbia.
The vessels are capable of towing large commercial ships in distress, such as tankers and container ships, before they get too close to shore. As part of the contract, Atlantic Towing Limited will also provide training in offshore emergency towing to Coast Guard personnel and partners, including Indigenous communities, involved in marine safety.
The contract is for the provision of vessels for the next three years. The two leased vessels will be operated by Atlantic Towing Limited personnel, along with members of the Canadian Coast Guard, off the coast of British Columbia.
One will patrol a northern area in Canadian waters between Alaska and the northern tip of Vancouver Island, and the other a southern area including the west side of Vancouver Island and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Both vessels will be on-site in late 2018.
The decision left a joint bid from the Heiltsuk Nation and Horizon Maritime Services Limited on the outside, marking a loss for the west coast option for a key element of the Federal government's Ocean Protection Plan.
In May the Heiltsuk and Horizon Maritime Services announced their partnership plans, offering up a program which if it had been accepted by the Federal government would have deployed emergency response vessels, engage community members in a cadet-training program, and provided the coast the protection that the Heiltsuk have been advocating for, that following a number of marine incidents in their territory.
In an information release from today, the Chief Councillor outlined a range of concerns when it comes to the Federal decision to go with the Atlantic Towing bid, including a lack of indigenous consultation and collaboration throughout the process of the contract award.
“Of course no matter the circumstances, we would be disappointed not to receive the contract; however, we could understand if the contract was going to another state of the art proposal offering enhanced marine protection capabilities comparable to our own bid – one that also meaningfully involved the participation of other Indigenous peoples,”
“Unfortunately, that is not the case here. Canada has decided to maintain the status quo and spend over $65 million on aging vessels from an east coast company with minimal experience in Pacific waters.”
The Heiltsuk also made note that the aboriginal participation portion of the bid accounts for less than 1 percent of the decision, calling the way that the Federal government has handled the contract as an embarrassment.
“We were shocked to learn that the aboriginal participation component of the bid accounted for less than 1% of the decision,” ... “In an age of supposed reconciliation, the federal government should be embarrassed that they would give such little weight to the involvement of Indigenous peoples.” -- Hereditary chief Harvey Humchitt.
Atlantic Towing is an Eastern Canadian based company, part of JDI Logistics, which is a component of the Irving empire on the East coast.
As the Chief Councillor notes the winning bid for the contract award has minimal experience in local waters, which does seem like a puzzling approach for the Feeral Government to take when it comes to providing full ocean protection response to the Pacific coast.
The decision also certainly appears to leave the Federal Government with some fences to mend quickly with the Heiltsuk Nation, with the Chief Councillor observing that her community is of the opinion that the reconciliation process is on "thin ice".
“As far as we’re concerned, Canada’s reconciliation process with Heiltsuk is on thin ice. We need to start seeing tangible results for ocean protection and respect for Heiltsuk’s leadership role in protecting and managing our waters.”
You can review the full statement from the Chief Councillor here.
The relationship appeared to be on firmer ground two months ago, back when the Prime Minister was in Prince Rupert for an announcement that heralded the partnership of the Federal government and fourteen coastal First nations,
At that event, at the Heiltsuk Chief Councillo called the Federal initiatives an "encouraging and positive step forward in the journey of nation to nation collaboration and reconciliation"
Six weeks later, the contract award seems to have set back some of that progress on those files. A process of forward momentum that Mr. Trudeau had seemingly thought he had put in motion during the course of his National Aboriginal Day appearance at the Seal Cove Coast guard base.
Upon learning of the contract award, NDP MP Nathan Cullen took to social media today to express his thoughts on the decision.
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice is currently in the Dease Lake/Telegraph Creek related to the wildfire in the region , so far she has not made a comment related to today's disappointment found in Bella Bella.