Five Indigenous Groups Vie for Ownership of Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion
Five groups of Indigenous communities are vying for ownership shares of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, with CBC reporting that one of the groups has been in meetings with Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the Globe and Mail describing a separate effort to buy a 51% stake in the project in a debt deal with major Canadian banks.
CBC says First Nations chiefs from one of the groups, Iron Coalition, have incorporated, met with Morneau, and assembled support from different First Nations and Métis in Alberta. Project Reconciliation, led by Indian Resource Council Vice-Chair and former Thunderchild First Nation chief Delbert Wapass, is inviting all First Nations in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia to participate in a C$6.8-billion deal built on “a syndicated debt issue to finance the acquisition and its share of the expansion costs,” the Globe writes. “The senior secured debt would be underpinned by the long-term shipping contracts that energy companies have signed with Trans Mountain, as well as guarantees that governments have offered to cover construction risks,” a plan that “would eliminate any need for taxpayer subsidies or up-front payments by the Indigenous communities.” [As someone later pointed out—didn’t you just say the government would cover construction risks? What is that, if not a taxpayer subsidy and an up-front payment?—Ed.]
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“We know that the government bought [the pipeline] with the understanding that they’re going to sell it—they’re going to let it go for fair market value,” Wapass said. “We understand that. We’re not looking for a handout. We are going to be just as competitive as anybody else, and not using taxpayers’ money.”
Since it first emerged during a meeting at the Tsuut’ina Nation near Calgary in January, Project Reconciliation “has assembled a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous executives with experience in oil and gas, capital markets, business development. and Indigenous relations,” the Globe notes, citing Wapass. “The group hopes to gain enough support among First Nations to help get approvals to start construction, and later provide income and economic development to communities that have dealt with poverty for decades. Early responses from the government of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and her rival in the provincial election campaign, Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, have been positive.”
Iron Coalition, meanwhile, is co-chaired by Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis, Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Papaschase First Nation in Edmonton, and Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis, located 60 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. While the group had a “good discussion” with Morneau, “there is no commitment of a sale or discussion of a sale until this project is approved,” Alexis said. “So we’re just here looking at the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, “we’ve had some preliminary discussions with some investors already who are interested. So we know there are investors out there,” Bruneau said. “I think once the pipeline construction is under way, that will increase everybody’s confidence.”
The Globe notes that Indigenous opposition to Trans Mountain won’t be muted by Indigenous participation in the project. “It’s not a question of who owns the pipeline, or who has what shares in the pipeline,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “The project is detrimental to the marine ecosystem. It’s a threat to the killer whales, the wild salmon. It goes on and on. I think they are pretty aware of my position.”
Wapass responded that, “by inviting people to be part of this journey, this opportunity, people will then realize that environment and economy don’t have to be in opposition. So I’m optimistic. I’m not one of those who shy away from that type of opposition, because it’s going to be there.”
Bruneau acknowledged the opposition to the project, as well. “What we want to do is, over the next couple of years, be meeting with these groups and look at trying to unite and form one big coalition,” he told CBC. “Part of reconciliation is to have First Nations ownership, especially in energy projects, because that really hasn’t been something that’s been there before.”