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Michael LeBourdais, seen here on Oct. 10, 2019, said his group is striving to take majority control and have Ottawa be the minority partner.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The leader of an Indigenous group seeking to buy a 51-per-cent stake in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline project says he is well-positioned to negotiate with the political party that wins the Oct. 21 federal election.

Last year, the federal government bought the Trans Mountain oil line and West Coast terminal from Kinder Morgan Canada Inc., as well as the pipeline expansion plans for the route from Edmonton to the Port of Vancouver.

“People in Ottawa can’t tip their hand to us, but they’ve been pretty receptive to us," said Michael LeBourdais, a director with the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group and also the elected chief of the Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band near Kamloops, B.C.

“We will have to update the federal government on what we’re doing, regardless of which party will be in there. Does it matter to First Nations whether it’s the Liberals or Conservatives? I don’t have a preference,” he said, adding that his group is prepared to deal with political uncertainty, including the possibility of a minority government.

Mr. LeBourdais said he plans to line up two banks as key lenders and also hopes to obtain federal loan guarantees, noting that the federal Liberal government paid $4.5-billion to Kinder Morgan last year and the expansion could cost at least $7.4-billion.

“The pipe goes right through my reserve, right beside my sister’s house and right beside my mother’s house. We live with the risk every day,” he said.

Mr. LeBourdais said his group is striving to take majority control and have Ottawa be the minority partner. “To me, happiness is 51 per cent and that’s what we’re looking to get,” he said. “We’ll pay market value for this pipe, with the support of our financial bankers and guarantees from Ottawa.”

He made the comments during an interview on Thursday as the World Indigenous Business Forum wrapped up in Vancouver. More than 500 delegates attended this week’s forum, with the goal of encouraging greater participation by First Nations in the economy, including resource development.

Fledgling First Nations organizations that have expressed interest in acquiring an equity stake in Trans Mountain include the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, Project Reconciliation and Iron Coalition.

The existing oil pipeline stretches 1,150 kilometres. The planned expansion would nearly triple the total capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

Environmentalists and some influential Indigenous groups in the Vancouver region say the expansion would place the West Coast at a greater risk of oil spills from tankers and be at odds with climate action plans. But the pro-pipeline camp argues that twinning the existing Trans Mountain pipeline would be an attractive way for Canada to diversify its oil exports to Asia, especially as the United States reduces its reliance on imported oil.

The World Indigenous Business Forum attracted a wide range of delegates, including Manitoba entrepreneur Alfred Lea. Mr. Lea is president of Native Canadian Chip Corp., which has been distributing Tomahawk potato chips for the past four years. “I like to get our own people, young Indigenous people, involved with the distribution,” he said.

Robin Ipirq, an Inuk originally from Nunavut, recently launched his own app and software development business called Inukshuk Digital. “I’ve done Indigenous language apps and also educational apps for schools,” said Mr. Ipirq, who now lives in Winnipeg.

Teresa Ryder, director of business development at the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, said that when international tourists visit Canada, many of them wish to see First Nations people in an authentic setting. “We fundamentally understand that culture belongs to each individual community,” Ms. Ryder said. “We really focus on the individual people telling their own stories so that visitors can have that one-on-one connection.”

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