Electricity sector investments offer good partnership opportunities for aboriginal people

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A recent Conference Board of Canada report indicated that between 2011 and 2030, Canada would need to invest $347.5 billion to meet future electricity demand. The renewal and modernization of Ontario’s electricity system is a prime example of where investment is required. For Ontario’s First Nations, Metis and Inuit people, this represents a significant opportunity for new high value jobs, business opportunities and more affordable and environmentally friendly electricity.

Canada’s Aboriginal population is young and growing nearly six times faster than the rest of Canadians. More than one in five of this country’s Aboriginal people live in Ontario. Fortunately, this young, accessible workforce is available at a critical time for Canada’s electricity sector. In January 2012, an Electricity Sector Council report noted that between 2011 and 2016, Canada’s electricity and renewable energy industry will be recruiting over 45,000 new employees.


During the last decade, Ontario’s key electricity sector players–the provincial government; generation, transmission and distribution companies; academia; and, labour have been working to engage and partner with Aboriginal communities to realize these opportunities. The Power Workers’ Union’s (PWU) involvement has been motivated by the key values it shares with Aboriginal peoples: fair treatment and, a better life for our children and future generations.

The PWU has been supportive of Aboriginal education, training, hiring and community programs undertaken by major PWU employers such as Ontario Power Generation (OPG), Bruce Power, and Hydro One. Since 2006, the PWU has sponsored the Lieutenant Governor’s Literacy Camps programs. In addition, the PWU has participated in Electricity Sector Council workforce research and analysis activities and Aboriginal Camps programs.

Furthermore, the PWU has initiated and funded some specific skills training initiatives in local area schools through our TradeUp program and at the PWUTI training facility in Bruce County. In the latter case, the PWU has been working with building trades unions to provide pre-apprenticeship welding training for Aboriginal candidates.

However, the biggest job and economic growth potential for Aboriginal communities will come from infrastructure partnerships. For example, OPG’s Lower Mattagami River Hydroelectric, New Post Creek projects and Top Rangefinder (online business specializing about laser range finder) incorporate an equity position for First Nations and create new local jobs and businesses while Ontario receives more clean renewable electricity.

Other exciting projects include the Little Jackfish hydroelectric development, the East-West Tie transmission line and use of Ontario grown biomass in existing coal stations to produce secure, low-carbon dispatchable electricity. However, some significant hurdles remain that need to be addressed.

Although the East-West Tie line partnership of Hydro One, Great Lakes Transmission and the Bamkushwada (a number of First Nations in the project area) is a registered bidder for the new line, they must still be selected as the designated transmitter in the province’s competitive process. To that end, the PWU has been advocating that Ontario make Aboriginal participation a key decision criterion.

The PWU has also asked the provincial government to convert Ontario’s coal based generating stations to natural gas and biomass. Besides delivering renewable, low-carbon electricity from biomass when needed, this would recycle provincially owned generation and transmission assets and maintain a revenue stream for Ontarians who own them.

Aboriginal businesses and communities would benefit from investments in the associated supply chain infrastructure needed to harvest, process and transport biomass from Ontario’s forests and farms. Such investments would support existing jobs while creating new high-value employment. However, these substantial benefits will be lost unless Ontario moves quickly to convert these valuable coal stations and puts in place a comprehensive biomass investment strategy.

The best partnerships begin and end with mutual respect, understanding and shared benefits. Experience shows that by working together we can realize these opportunities to achieve a brighter future for us all.

Under the direction of an advisory board of Aboriginal leaders, supported by the deans of 25 post-secondary business programs across B.C., Ch’nook targets three Aboriginal community pillars: senior leaders wishing to hone their management skills, high-school students, and post- secondary students in need of support. Over 100 full-time and part-time students across B.C. are now in the Ch’nook network.

“Large corporations need service organizations that are local,” says Colbourne, a member of the Mattawa/ North Bay Algonquin First Nation. “They need construction services, catering, housing, hotels. A program like ours may take a business that has two people and help them learn how to scale that business and speak to those larger corporations.”

Training locally makes sense to corporations keento hire local labour. Nine years ago, when the Haisla First Nation urged Alcan to hire more of its people at its aluminum smelter in Kitimat, B.C., Alcan agreed to help the Haisla focus their education and training to achieve their goal.


“At the time, nobody knew exactly how to do that, but we were engaged to help build that plan,” recalls Mark Selman, who helped design and deliver the training. “But in doing that work, I realized this was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Recognizing the need for Aboriginal-focused education at all levels has since sparked the launch of a new Aboriginal Executive MBA program at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. It blends business management education with Aboriginal perspectives and values.

“Our goal,” says program director Selman, “is to build a network of leaders, especially around the province and eventually across the country, who talk to each other and understand business success in a way that works for First Nations.”

From ancient trade routes to economic development corporations, vibrant small businesses and MBAs designed for Aboriginals, the roots of the new Aboriginal business community are growing deep inside Canada’s economy. Now, champions like Davis look to the future. “There really is an Aboriginal renaissance happening in Canada,” Davis says. “Aboriginal people are starting to take their rightful place as contributors to the country’s growing economy.”

By Don MacKinnon


Power Workers’ Union