A consortium of First Nations is planning to bid C$6.8 billion (US$5.1 billion) for a majority stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline and its expansion project. The move by the bid group, known as Project Reconciliation, appears to be in line with new Canadian government principles for potential indigenous buyers.
A Project Reconciliation executive board member, Harrie Vredenburg, told the Canadian Press via email that the Canadian Minister of Finance Bill Morneau’s four principles of indigenous ownership were “exactly aligned” with those of the group.
“In fact, we shared our vision along those lines with the minister’s office some time back,” wrote Vredenburg, who is also a professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.
Project Reconciliation’s executive chairman, Delbert Wapass – a former chief of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan – said recently that the group was close to bidding C$6.8 billion for a 51% stake in Trans Mountain. The federal government purchased the project and its proposed expansion from Kinder Morgan in August 2018 for C$4.5 billion (US$3.4 billion).
Wapass told BNN Bloomberg that his group was “within striking distance” of submitting a formal bid. Project Reconciliation’s leaders have also consulted investment banks and federal government officials on the matter.
“We’re very close,” Wapass said. “If there was an announcement tomorrow or next week [by the federal government], we’d be ready. We’ve done a lot of work.”
Wapass also suggested that federal officials had been supportive of the concept of indigenous ownership of the Trans Mountain project.
“They see the situation,” Wapass said. “They see the need of First Nations people standing up and trying to do something that is going to benefit all people – not only First Nations, but Canadians as a whole.”
Several First Nations have expressed a desire to invest in the pipeline and expansion project, in an effort to ensure their economic stability for decades to come. But at the same time many aboriginal groups oppose the expansion, which would nearly triple the capacity of the existing pipeline from the Edmonton area of Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia.
“We expect that those First Nations that don’t want to get involved [with the Trans Mountain expansion] are going to be very adamant about staying out of their territory,” Wapass said. “Once we’re given the opportunity to share what we’re all about, what we’re going to be doing, the decision is theirs,” he added.
“We’re not there to dictate – nor are we there to push ourselves on anybody.”
Morneau unveiled Ottawa’s four principles of indigenous ownership on March 25 in Calgary. The principles call for indigenous ownership to occur only if aboriginal communities have “meaningful economic participation”. Purchases must also be completed in the spirit of reconciliation between aboriginal groups and the Canadian government.
Ottawa is working to reconcile with indigenous groups in the wake of abuse that occurred at aboriginal residential schools decades ago, as well as legal and constitutional battles over land rights, resource matters and other issues. Aboriginal groups and Ottawa are attempting to rebuild their relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.
The four principles of Trans Mountain’s proposed indigenous ownership also call for the purchase to benefit all Canadians and for the new entity to proceed on a commercial basis.
The Trans Mountain expansion project had faced numerous regulatory and legal delays that eventually prompted Kinder Morgan to sell the pipeline. From the day it completed the purchase, Ottawa said that it would not be a long-term owner and that it wanted to return control of the pipeline to the private sector.
But Morneau reiterated recently that Ottawa would not sell Trans Mountain until the expansion project’s construction was “de-risked”. The expansion project still requires federal government re-approval after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned Ottawa’s original approval in August 2018.
The court ruled that Ottawa had failed to consult affected First Nations properly and that it did not adequately consider the negative effects of oil tanker traffic on already endangered killer whales off the BC coast.
The Canadian government must now complete consultations with affected indigenous groups, as ordered by the court, before re-approval can be considered. Consultations are expected to conclude in May.