Tsuu T’ina, Alta. — Alberta First Nations are considering a bid to buy a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline from Ottawa, but the project’s top executive says there is nothing to sell until the expansion project is approved.
Marlene Poitras, the influential Alberta regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, said that she had informed Finance Minister Bill Morneau of the interest of Alberta’s indigenous communities in buying a stake in the project.
Speaking at the indigenous energy summit on the Tsuu T’ina Nation, a reserve on the edge of Calgary, Poitras said she had also advised the Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and the Alberta provincial government that indigenous groups are looking to buy into the pipeline project.
“I believe that in order to create real economies on reserves, real progress must be made on real indicators,” Poitras said, adding that projects needed to boost wages for Aboriginal people, educational opportunities and ownership opportunities.
However, Ian Anderson, Trans Mountain Corp. president and CEO, said Wednesday that “there’s no project to invest in at this point,” as the expansion still needs fresh regulatory approvals from the National Energy Board before it can proceed to construction, which will boost shipments of oil from Alberta to the West Coast. He said getting those approvals is the current focus before making deals to sell stakes in the project.
Still, he confirmed the federal government has heard from indigenous groups interested in buying a stake in the pipeline system and expansion project that Ottawa bought from Houston-based Kinder Morgan Inc. for $4.5 billion in 2018.
“All I can really say at this point in time is the ideas, thoughts, participants have all been heard. I can’t say today what the outcome will be,” Anderson said at the event.
Many of the discussions at Wednesday’s conference, which featured oil and gas executives and aboriginal chiefs, focused on First Nations’ interest in buying a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline and how groups might finance that equity stake, which extends beyond Alberta.
Earlier this week Chief Mike LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines First Nation, a community north of Kamloops, B.C. told a radio station that a group of First Nations that support the project had met with banks, industry and other potential equity participants.
He said the group was looking to put in a “pre-emptive” bid ahead of this year’s federal election, and could bid as early as April or May, the Vancouver Sun reported Tuesday.
At the conference Wednesday, multiple First Nations involved in resource extraction were encouraged to engage with the federal government to negotiate a stake in the project.
“I think it’s time to raise your voice,” Barrie Robb, the CEO of business development for the Fort McKay First Nation and principal at Fivars Consulting Ltd. told conference attendees, most of whom were Aboriginal.
The executive negotiated for the Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nations when they spent $503 million to purchase a 49 per cent equity stake in oil storage tanks near Fort McMurray, Alta. from Suncor Energy Inc. in 2017, which was the largest-ever deal struck by an aboriginal group in Canada.
Robb told reporters that First Nations should negotiate a deal based on the project being “de-risked” by having regulatory approvals in hand and potentially construction complete, so they could capture the revenues from the completed project.
Within the energy industry, there is a growing recognition that indigenous communities need equity ownership in pipelines and other projects in order to proceed and that companies need to work directly with them, Questerre Energy Corp. president and CEO Michael Binnion said.
“I think we can argue about how much equity, but I don’t think we can argue about whether there’s equity any more,” Binnion said.
He said there was a “complete and different attitude of genuine partnerships with First Nations” throughout the sector now.
While there is a broad range of views on natural resource development among First Nations — within Alberta and around the country — many speeches on Wednesday focused on whether resource projects could allow First Nations groups to reduce their reliance on funding from Ottawa.
“Where development happens, I look at that as economic sovereignty,” said Wallace Fox, a former chief of the Onion Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan and chair of the Indian Resource Council, which organized this week’s conference.
“Bring us a proposal, we’ll work with you to create that economic sovereignty to become independent from government policy,” Fox said.
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