Application dismissed. This matter is not subject to judicial review as it seems to be of a private contractual nature brought forward by a First Nation, therefore it is not of a sufficiently public character to bring into the public law realm.
The Acho Dene Koe First Nation [“ADKFN”], claims Aboriginal title over lands upon which oil and gas exploration was being conducted by Paramount Resources Ltd. [“Paramount”], Chevron Canada Resources [“Chevron”] and Ranger Oil Limited [“Ranger”]. Neither the status, nor the validity of the ADKFN’s claim to Aboriginal title are before the Court.
The Director of Mineral and Petroleum Resources of the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment for the Government of the Northwest Territories [“Director”] received a letter from the ADKFN explaining that the First Nation had entered into benefit agreements, called Community Investment Plans (“CIPs”), with Paramount, Chevron and Ranger. ADKFN asserted that each CIP related to specific licenses and interests held initially by each of the companies, and subsequently assigned to Paramount. ADKFN also asserted that the CIPs ran with the land to which the license and interest pertained and that Paramount, as the assignee, was bound by the CIPs with Chevron and Ranger, as well as its own.
Each CIPs’ stated purposes were to formalize the relationship between each of Paramount, Chevron and Ranger and ADKFN, and to provide for ongoing development of community relations. Among other things, they provided for financial contribution to a community development fund for the benefit of ADKFN members and a commitment to provide business opportunities to ADKFN members upon certain core competencies being demonstrated.
Although breaching of the CIPs is not before the Court, in its letter to the Director, ADKFN alleged that Paramount breached the CIPs and that consequently, Paramount was in violation of any licenses, permits or approvals that are contingent on compliance with such agreements. The Director replied by providing a general explanation of the benefits plans and approval process, noting that a benefits plan includes a commitment from the operator to implement strategies for training and employment, and procurement and contracting, but does not generally include guaranteed outcomes. He also noted that during the approval process, operators may enter into private contracts, such as the CIPs provided by ADKFN, to implement the strategies in the benefit plan, but that the terms of any private agreement do not thereby become terms of the benefit plan.
The AKDFN asks this Court to determine whether the Director in his letter erred by not assessing whether Paramount had complied with the benefits plans, declining to enforce the CIPs, and determining that the benefits plans are privileged. The Court finds that the Director’s letter is not subject to judicial review. The Director was not acting in accordance with “state authority” and the issues put before him were not of a sufficiently public character to bring the matter into the public law realm. He was not exercising a statutory or other public law power and, therefore was not acting as a tribunal. The Director received letters from ADKFN’s counsel, making a number of requests in relation to something that is entirely a private law matter. His response to the ADKFN did not become a tribunal and ADKFN’s interest did not take on a public dimension.
Even if a judicial review was allowed, it would be dismissed as the Director’s conclusion on the nature of the benefits plans as well as the Minister’s obligation to enforce the CIPs, would be assessed on a standard of reasonableness. His conclusion on the privilege question would be assessed on a standard of correctness as the privilege is statutorily protected. The Director’s assessment of the nature of the benefits plans is both reasonable and correct.
The Government’s duty to consult was not engaged because at the heart of ADKFN’s concern is a private contractual dispute with Paramount, not a proposed government action or decision. All that the ADKFN requested was an “enforcement” of the CIPs, in furtherance of its private contractual dispute with Paramount. That is something which neither the Minister, nor the Director have the authority to do and it is not altered by the Government’s fiduciary obligations to the ADKFN.
While the Director is employed in the public service, there is nothing in the applicable statutes that confers authority or imposes a duty upon him to decide or enforce anything, nor is there any evidence that any such authority or duty has been delegated to him. Accordingly, the Director does not fall into the category of a “public officer” in these circumstances.