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The federal government has assembled a team of blue-chip business leaders to form Trans Mountain Corp.'s board of directors, a move the CEO says will help deal with criticism resulting from Ottawa’s takeover of the pipeline company and its expansion plans.

Since announcing its acquisition of Trans Mountain this spring, a deal that gave the government control of the existing TMX pipeline and its multibillion-dollar expansion project, opposition politicians and some business leaders have argued the federal Liberals should not own or run an energy company.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau said at the time of the purchase that the government bought the Trans Mountain assets to get the project completed and intends to sell it as soon as possible.

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Trans Mountain chief executive Ian Anderson said in an interview that, should the project get the approvals necessary to restart construction, the government does not plan to hold onto it in perpetuity. “It’s not a long hold for the government," he said. "They acquired it to get it built.”

He acknowledged that the composition of the board is intended to assure Canadians that strong private-sector leaders will run the company.

The government announced the appointments in a news release on Wednesday. Recently retired Bank of Montreal chief Bill Downe was named board chair. Mr. Downe has led one of Canada’s largest companies and previously worked in BMO’s Houston office, which specialized in oil and gas.

Trans Mountain’s 11-person board also includes Royal Bank of Canada veteran Stephen Swaffield, former Torys LLP partner and corporate lawyer Patricia Koval and former Canfor Corp. CEO David Emerson.

“It’s a business board," said Mr. Anderson, who previously ran Kinder Morgan Canada, which owned the Trans Mountain pipeline at the time of the government’s acquisition. The composition, he added, is a reminder that the government’s purchase was a “business decision.”

“The fact that it becomes fodder for political debate and so forth is unfortunate,” Mr. Anderson said.

Trans Mountain’s board will be rounded out by Indigenous leaders such as Harold Calla, who is a member of the Squamish Nation and has served on the boards of FortisBC and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., and by business and government leaders including former Shell Canada head Lorraine Mitchelmore.

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The federal government also appointed directors with deep roots in the private sector when it established the Canada Infrastructure Bank. To set it up, the Liberals tapped former Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan head Jim Leech as a special adviser, and named former RBC chief financial officer Janice Fukakusa as chair.

The composition of the Trans Mountain board also extends the Liberals' reliance on business leaders when making major decisions related to Trans Mountain. When planning the acquisition, Mr. Morneau leaned heavily on Tim Duncanson, who spent most of his career at private-equity firm Onex Corp., and CMHC head Evan Siddall, who previously worked at Goldman Sachs and Irving Oil.

Mr. Anderson did not provide any updates on the timing of the pipeline’s expansion, noting that more hearings and consultations are under way. In August, the federal Court of Appeal ruled the Liberal government failed to adequately consult First Nations whose rights are affected by the pipeline expansion. The court also said the National Energy Board had wrongly concluded in its original review that it did not have jurisdiction over marine issues and so did not provide recommendations on mitigating impact on coastal waterways.

In the months since, the Liberals have appointed former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci to oversee the government’s engagement with First Nations that would be affected by the expansion.

With reports from Shawn McCarthy and Campbell Clark

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