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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney sits with Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild during a meeting with First Nations Chiefs and Grand Chiefs about increasing Indigenous participation in the economy, in Edmonton on June 10, 2019.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he hopes the growing number of First Nations-led proposals to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline come together under one banner, which he says would be a “game changer” for obstacles facing the expansion project.

Mr. Kenney met with First Nations leaders Monday to pitch his government’s proposal for a Crown corporation to facilitate Indigenous ownership of pipelines and other major energy projects, ahead of a coming deadline for the federal government to approve the Trans Mountain project.

The United Conservative government plans to set up the Indigenous Opportunities Corp. this fall with $1-billion in loan guarantees and other financing, as part of a plan to elevate the voices of First Nations communities that support the stalled Trans Mountain expansion. Several Indigenous organizations, including Project Reconciliation and Iron Coalition, have been putting together proposals and seeking funding to make offers to buy part of the pipeline.

“Whether it’s the Iron Coalition or Project Reconciliation, or the other projects, we encourage them in their efforts, but hopefully they can come to some sort of consortium so we’re not having to pick winners or losers,” Mr. Kenney said after a meeting with several Alberta First Nations leaders in Edmonton.

Mr. Kenney has argued that the Trans Mountain debate has been dominated by what he describes as a small minority of First Nations opposed to the project, particularly in British Columbia, which have used the courts to block it. Last year, the Federal Court of Appeal overturned Ottawa’s approval of the pipeline in part because of inadequate Indigenous consultation.

Federal cabinet faces a deadline next week to decide whether to issue a new approval for the expansion, which would triple the capacity of the pipeline between Alberta’s oil sands and the Vancouver region. The government purchased the existing pipeline last year for $4.5-billion, after court challenges to the expansion from opposing First Nations and environmentalists.

Mr. Kenney said Indigenous ownership would transform the debate.

“I think this is a game changer,” he said.

“There are a whole lot of First Nations out there, in British Columbia for example, who would be supportive in projects like this if they felt they had a significant economic stake in it.”

The latest First Nations proposal to emerge is Iron Coalition, which announced plans last week to invite all Alberta First Nation and Métis communities to participate in a plan to buy a stake in Trans Mountain. The group, led by three First Nations chiefs and the president of a northeastern Métis community, has said it has not yet finalized the size of stake it wants or how financing would be structured.

Project Reconciliation has been working for months to build support for its proposal to buy 51 per cent of Trans Mountain, inviting all First Nations communities in the three Western provinces to take part. It plans a syndicated debt issue, backed by shipping contracts, to finance the acquisition.

Delbert Wapass, executive chairman of the Project Reconciliation group and former chief of Thunderchild First Nation, said the Alberta government’s offer of loan guarantees would help his group’s proposal.

He agreed with Mr. Kenney that the First Nations proposals would be stronger if they came together.

“We’re trying to figure out: What is it that will bring people on side?” he said in an interview. “Let’s go in there as a collective rather than having government decide who it should be.”

First Nations leaders in B.C. who oppose the Trans Mountain expansion have dismissed the suggestion that Indigenous ownership would change their view of the project, which they say would pose grave risks to the environment and their traditional territories regardless of who owns it.

Mr. Wapass said First Nations communities that are concerned about the impact of the Trans Mountain pipeline would have far more say about how the expansion proceeds, and what protections are put in place, if they owned it.

“First Nations in B.C. and elsewhere will realize soon that 51 per cent ownership means that we are in the driver’s seat.”

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