Federal legislation overhauling the regulation of Canada’s energy industry could spell the end of any move by First Nations to buy an ownership stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline project, says an Alberta First Nations chief who has been a vocal supporter of oil and gas development.
Leaders from the 130 bands that are part of the Indian Resource Council (IRC), a group of First Nations that are involved in oil and gas development, met outside Calgary on Wednesday to discuss buying into the pipeline.
Dozens of chiefs from Alberta and British Columbia have expressed interest in the project at a time of increasing division among Indigenous groups across Western Canada over large-scale energy projects. Buying the pipeline, in part or in whole, would be a significant undertaking. No new details emerged from the chiefs on Wednesday as they traded concepts about how to finance an idea that is still in its infancy.
Roy Fox, the chief of southern Alberta’s Blood Tribe, said at the meeting his community would not invest in the federally owned pipeline if two bills being debated in Ottawa are not amended quickly. Bill C-69, which would revamp the National Energy Board, and Bill C-48, which would ban oil tanker traffic off British Columbia’s northern coast, have faced significant criticism from the Canadian oil and gas industry and Alberta’s provincial government. Opponents have said the regulations brought in by the bills would effectively bar the construction of future pipeline projects, including the Trans Mountain expansion.
“As it stands now, we would not invest. If it was a sure thing, maybe,” Mr. Fox told reporters on Wednesday during the IRC energy meeting in the Tsuu T’ina Nation outside Calgary. The chief, whose community has invested significantly in oil and gas, said he has brought his concerns to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau but that hasn’t lead to any amendments. “If these two bills go through in their existing forms, they are deal killers.”
Ottawa bought Trans Mountain for $4.5-billion in May after the owner indicated it was giving up on plans to nearly triple the capacity of the pipeline, which carries oil from Edmonton to Vancouver. The federal government is undertaking new consultations on the proposed expansion, ordered by an appeal court in August. Ottawa has said it intends the resell the pipeline.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau reacted positively to the discussion, but noted that there are still several steps to go before the project can be sold.
“We welcome those discussions. We’re not having those discussions directly right now,” Mr. Morneau told reporters on Wednesday on the sidelines of a cabinet retreat in Sherbrooke. “Our view is the potential for Indigenous peoples to be engaged could be positive for Indigenous peoples, could be positive for the pipeline. It could be positive for Canadians."
Stephen Buffalo, the president of the IRC, said he was disappointed no elected federal officials attended the energy meeting, despite receiving invitations. “It’s an opportunity to find a way for some of our communities to get out of poverty,” he said.
Ian Anderson, the head of the Trans Mountain Crown corporation, told the Indigenous leaders investors will want certainty. Mr. Anderson said he would welcome First Nations participation in the pipeline, but warned that Trans Mountain faces challenges.
“I can’t say today what the outcome will be. I think that some important questions have to be answered: Particularly the who, the how and the when [for investment],” Mr. Anderson said. “There is no project to invest in at this point, I’ve got to get certificates. We’ve got to get to work, we’ve got to get building this national interest project and that’s what I remain singly focused on.”
Richard Feehan, Alberta’s Minister of Indigenous Relations, said his department has been working behind the scenes to help First Nations get ready to secure financing to buy a stake in Trans Mountain.
The province has provided minimal resources to groups, including the IRC, he said in an interview. “The work that we’re doing is very much behind the scenes because it turns out the First Nations are perfectly capable of taking care of their own needs,” he said.
With a report from Bill Curry