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'I think that this corporation may be a game changer in getting market access for our natural resources, which is existential for our economy,' said Mr. Kenney, seen here on Jan. 7, 2020.

Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

An Alberta Crown corporation created to help Indigenous groups buy ownership stakes in resource projects could help contentious pipeline and energy proposals overcome opposition from First Nations, says Premier Jason Kenney.

The new Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp. has been allocated $1-billion by the Kenney government to support Indigenous investment in Canada’s resource industries, with much of the focus expected to be on infrastructure for the province’s oil patch.

“I think that this corporation may be a game changer in getting market access for our natural resources, which is existential for our economy,” Mr. Kenney said on Monday in Calgary as he unveiled the corporation’s board.

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The Premier told reporters he believes some of the tension around energy projects could be solved with more Indigenous investment. Mr. Kenney cited the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline linking Alberta’s oil sands to the Port of Vancouver and the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern British Columbia, both of which face opposition from Indigenous groups in B.C.

“The more deeply vested First Nations are in the resource industry, the more overall aboriginal support there will be for projects like pipelines,” he said.

A number of Alberta’s First Nations have already made substantial investments in the province’s oil sands. Indigenous groups near Fort McMurray own companies that service oil facilities and own hotel chains, for example. Two First Nations partnered on the $545-million acquisition of 49 per cent of a large tank farm in late 2017.

Despite the existing investments, Mr. Kenney’s government created the Crown corporation to increase Indigenous participation in the energy sector. The corporation could also extend loans to First Nations outside Alberta.

“There are many of our First Nations who simply do not have the financial capacity or depth, for whatever reason, to engage in the kind of major financial transactions that are required for their people to fully benefit from resource wealth. Today, that changes,” he said.

However, there will be limits on who can work with the provincially owned corporation. Indigenous groups will be required to provide at least $20-million in cash up front for a project before the corporation invests more. While First Nations in Alberta could use the money on renewable energy projects, investments outside the province will need to directly benefit Alberta’s natural-resource sector.

Indigenous groups in B.C. have shown broad support for a number of energy projects, including every elected band council along the Coastal GasLink pipeline route. A group led by Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders is seeking to block construction of that pipeline project within their traditional territories. The proposed pipeline is a key piece of infrastructure for the $40-billion LNG Canada project that will export natural gas to Asian markets.

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Mr. Kenney said projects such as the Coastal GasLink or Trans Mountain should proceed despite some opposition because they have an “overwhelming consensus.” Indigenous groups along the route of the Trans Mountain pipeline, now owned by the federal government, have won court battles delaying the project until they are better consulted.

Cody Church, the board’s chair, said the corporation will focus on quickly doling out its provincial funding. Mr. Kenney has suggested that Alberta is open to allowing more provinces or Ottawa to contribute to the Crown corporation.

“We’re focused on delivering a vision of seeing Indigenous communities assuming a meaningful economic participation that leads to social benefits from the sustainable development of natural resources,” said Mr. Church, who runs Clear North Capital, a small deal-making firm, in Calgary.

He said the Crown corporation, which will provide loans of between $20-million and $250-million, will focus on helping bids made up of a large number of First Nations buy stakes in existing projects that are already making money.

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