Indigenizing potash in Canada

Sep 11, 2023 | potash news

Creating certainty for proponents

By Scott Barnes, Ph.D., P.Ag.

Traditionally, Indigenous inclusion in major projects in Canada was undertaken largely to satisfy real or perceived requirements set forth by any one of regulators, the Crown, or Indigenous Nations, as well as to demonstrate social awareness. For potash proponents, a look at the recent past in other resource sectors can reveal lessons about the best strategy moving forward.

If meaningful Indigenous inclusion is the new standard for potash proponents, we can highlight some learnings of relevance and demonstrate ways in which Indigenous inclusion not only satisfies the minimum requirements to proceed with a project, but also creates unique strategic opportunities.

Indigenous nations in Canada have moved more quickly than any other time in the past to become ready to be valued business partners in a range of industries including potash. There are many reasons why a nation may choose to commercially participate in any business venture, including to create wealth for its citizens. We’d like to highlight two other common nation priorities which may at first seem obliquely related to doing business, but potentially can create significant positive outcomes.

An important reason that nations may choose to participate in a project is to undertake work that supports stewardship goals. In the past, nations have been largely excluded from meaningful participation in the regulatory process. Although this right stems from Section 35 of the Constitution, most nations do not have a level of legal, environmental, and operational expertise to assess projects in depth. A potential solution is to ensure nation members work on the location, ideally in monitoring. This is a common practice in the pipeline sector.

A second equally important reason for a nation to wish to participate is to provide work for its members. This is often a product of doing business at the location, but prioritizing employment may decrease profitability due to additional overhead.

So how can proponents and nations work together in ways that support the goals of each? With the above in mind, there are some natural partnerships that can evolve.

From a strategic viewpoint, proponents can leverage the stewardship obligations of a nation to create regulatory certainty. This is becoming much more relevant after the passage of two federal acts; the Impact Assessment Act, and the United Nations Declaration Act. Each specifies more defined roles for nations, up to and including acting as the regulator. With a strategic partnership, a proponent and a nation could define a regulatory path forward that advances the needs of the partnership over those of the Crown.

As all proponents understand, finding people to work on a project, especially during construction, is a significant barrier. We have seen firms bring in talent from across North America on large projects to meet the staffing needs. There is an underutilized pool of local Indigenous people through Canada that largely lies untapped. We have seen great success when proponents shift towards local Indigenous hiring, if the capacity resourcing is sufficient.

Indigenous nations will be involved in the potash sector moving forward as they travel towards economic reconciliation. We have seen that when proponents understand this fact and think about the goals of the nation as creating potential strategic partnerships, positive outcomes emerge for both partners. For this to happen, collaboration must be initiated between the leaders of each partner entity and done so with mutual respect and trust. We know that this approach will create the most environmentally sustainable fertilizer production in the world for decades to come.