Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Workers lay pipe during construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on farmland in Abbotsford, B.C. on May 3.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Former Trans Mountain Corp. chief executive officer Ian Anderson believes there’s still a case to be made for Indigenous ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, despite cost overruns, delays and staunch opposition from some First Nations along the pipeline corridor.

“I think some form of Indigenous ownership is important and necessary,” Mr. Anderson said in a recent interview.

“It’s a great opportunity for Canada to transact some economic reconciliation with upwards of 125 nations that have been part of the consultation process on the project from day one,” he added.

Mr. Anderson was president of former pipeline proponent Kinder Morgan Canada from 2005 until 2018, a period during which he steered the pipeline expansion project and was involved with talks and negotiations with First Nations along the route.

He became head of Trans Mountain after the federal government bought the existing pipeline and the expansion project for $4.5-billion because Kinder Morgan threatened to walk away over legal battles and environmental opposition. Trans Mountain announced Mr. Anderson’s retirement in February, 2022, effective April 1 of that year.

Stressing that he speaks only for himself, not for Trans Mountain or any Indigenous community or group, Mr. Anderson said he hopes Ottawa will move quickly to sell part of the project to Indigenous owners because the pipeline is nearing completion and negotiations are bound to be complex.

This month, Ottawa signalled how it plans to carry out those negotiations through a letter to Indigenous communities that set out key principles for the process, including that the federal government would support Indigenous communities with access to capital so that they would not need to risk their own money to participate.

Mr. Anderson said he expects the federal government would “backstop” Indigenous participation through loan guarantees or other arrangements.

The federal government has been talking about Indigenous participation in the contentious pipeline expansion project since 2019. Since then, several groups have formed to pursue ownership stakes for Indigenous communities, including Project Reconciliation and Chinook Pathways, a partnership between Pembina Pipeline Corp. and Western Indigenous Pipeline Group.

In her letter, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said taking part in the federal government’s process would not prevent Indigenous communities or Indigenous-led proponents from participating in a commercial divestment process to acquire additional equity in Trans Mountain.

Group pulls out of Ottawa’s plan to sell Trans Mountain pipeline stakes to Indigenous owners

Mr. Anderson defended the project’s economic case, despite cost overruns that have pushed the latest cost estimate, as of March, 2023, to $30.9-billion.

“This is an operating company and that’s what somebody is buying – what they’re buying is not the $30-billion that it may cost to build the expansion. What they’re buying is the future cash flow that comes from that company,” he said.

Even before the latest overrun was disclosed, independent analyses, including a 2022 report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, had shown Ottawa would lose money on the project.

Future taxes, royalties, jobs and the price of oil on the global market will help offset the project’s costs, Mr. Anderson said.

“Once the expansion is complete, it’s got contracts for 80 per cent of the volume for 20 years. So it’s got solid backing. It’s got a global market to reach into. It’s going to be a valuable asset and buyers and sellers will determine that value.”

Environmental groups and some First Nations have challenged the rationale for the project, citing the impact of burning fossil fuels on climate, and environmental impacts along the pipeline route.

The International Energy Agency in August said world oil demand is hitting record highs, boosted by strong summer air travel, increased oil use in power generation and surging Chinese petrochemical activity. That momentum is expected to slow in 2024 owing to lacklustre economic conditions, tighter efficiency standards and new electric vehicles reducing demand, the agency said.

Charlene Aleck is a councillor with the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a B.C. First Nation that has long opposed the expansion project.

“It’s going full-fledged into a dying, sunsetting industry and they are just going to find all the risks and all the barriers at every turn,” Ms. Aleck said. “Having them say they are 80 per cent complete – the pipe may be laid in the ground, but I think they are still far from having a running, operating expansion of that pipeline.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe