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The Alberta government has appointed a CIBC executive to lead a Crown corporation that will provide $1-billion in loan guarantees to Indigenous groups seeking to buy into resource and infrastructure projects such as pipelines.

Alicia Dubois, currently the vice-president for Indigenous markets at the bank, will become chief executive of the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp., or AIOC, on Sept. 1.

The Crown corporation was a United Conservative Party platform promise from last year’s election – part of a series of measures designed to promote the province’s energy sector, encourage Indigenous participation and overcome opposition, including from some First Nations.

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Ms. Dubois, who identifies as Indigenous, said the corporation will have an “echo effect” for those communities, allowing them not only to buy into specific projects, but also to build the capacity to pursue other economic opportunities later on.

Alberta Indigenous Opportunities allocated $1-billion by Kenney government

“Ultimately, our aim is to act as a bridge of sorts between Indigenous groups and industry players in the development of meaningful partnerships,” she said in an interview.

“While the focus is on enhancing Indigenous engagement in the economy and their participation in meaningful ways, the benefit is really to everybody involved, because it will also drive regional economic growth.”

The AIOC will guarantee loans for Indigenous groups to invest in energy projects, including petroleum and renewable energy, as well as forestry development and mining. The minimum size of those loans will be $20-million.

Projects can be anywhere in Canada but the loan proposals must include at least one Indigenous group in Alberta that would make up at least 25 per cent of the investment.

In addition to the loans, the AIOC has a budget of about $3-million for “capacity grants” to pay for expert advice and other support needed to assess potential projects.

The provincial government confirmed earlier this month that it provided $600,000 in seed money to Indigenous groups seeking an ownership stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline.

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There are several Indigenous proposals in the works to buy into the pipeline between the Edmonton region and a terminal in Burnaby, B.C., and one of them, Project Reconciliation, confirms it was one of the groups to receive the funding.

Ms. Dubois, who is also board co-chair of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, said ensuring Indigenous groups can buy into and benefit from resource development is key to fostering “self-determination.”

“I see these projects and these partnerships as a way to really break down some of the barriers and stereotypes and to build a much more positive narrative in Canada,” Ms. Dubois said.

Premier Jason Kenney has focused on Indigenous participation in resource development as he seeks to overcome opposition that has hampered the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and other projects.

In addition to the AIOC, the government has also set up a $10-million litigation fund to support Indigenous groups that want to file or participate in legal challenges in support of resource development.

The Premier welcomed the appointment of Ms. Dubois and said the AIOC has already received dozens of applications, including one related to a power project that he expected to be announced next week.

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“We were clear from the beginning that AIOC had to make decisions based on commercial viability,” he said at an unrelated news conference on Wednesday.

“This is not a cheque-writing operation. This is about supporting commercially viable projects that involve Aboriginal co-ownership or financial participation.”

Delbert Wapass of Project Reconciliation, which is aiming to purchase a majority ownership stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline, said the recently announced grant will help his organization continue consulting with affected First Nations and develop its proposal.

“Here we are struggling in an economy that has been crippled by COVID. What better way to get the economy back than to support and be part of a program that’s going to be pushing something that’s good for our people?

“The sooner Indigenous people own it or own a majority stake in it, the quicker we can mitigate any issues that are out there.”

The federal government, which purchased Trans Mountain in 2018 as it became mired in legal challenges, has said it wants to ensure Indigenous ownership when it is eventually sold and launched consultations earlier this year.

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