Indigenous leaders are meeting in southern Alberta this week to prepare a bid on a majority interest in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline and its twinning project to the B.C. Lower Mainland.
The Indian Resource Council of Canada represents 134 first nations that have oil and gas resources. Its annual general meeting at a casino resort near Calgary begins Wednesday with an “Indigenous energy summit” to prepare a proposal for the federal government, which bought the pipeline and expansion project for $4.5 billion last year.
Mike LeBourdais, chief of the Whispering Pines First Nation between Kamloops and Barriere, has been travelling the right-of-way of the pipeline, completed in 1954 from northern Alberta to a terminal in Burnaby and Washington refineries. He has met with bankers, refiners and federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and the intention is to present a bid for 51 per cent ownership of the pipeline by this spring.
“We’ve always wanted equity,” LeBourdais told NL Radio in Kamloops Monday. “When we started negotiating with Kinder Morgan when they owned this pipeline, back in 2007 when we started talking to them, equity was always part of the discussion. They said there’s no equity in the first pipe, we’ll talk about it later. So we grudgingly agreed to that.”
During a recent visit to Kamloops, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is interested in the Indigenous equity proposal, but the federal government is focused on meeting additional consultation demands from the latest court decision holding it up. LeBourdais said that could extend beyond next November’s federal election, and he wants Trudeau’s answer on a bid before that. Without participation by Indigenous investors, the project likely won’t be built, he said.
Stephen Buffalo, CEO of the Indian Resource Council, is blunt in his remarks about Ottawa’s performance and the interference of “professional environmentalists who claim to speak for us” and stage anti-pipeline demonstrations in cities.
“The environmentalists and their supporters celebrate each time the courts put the kibosh on pipelines, such as what happened with the Federal Court of Appeal decision on Trans Mountain,” Buffalo said in his message to summit delegates. “In the meantime, our Liberal government appears clueless on a way forward. Sure, they have put together some sort of plan to address the two important issues raised by the court – Indigenous consultation and marine impact considerations – but they have failed to provide a coherent plan on how they will build the pipeline they now own.”
The Indian Resource Council also denounces Bill C-69, the Trudeau government’s pending legislation that would add more hurdles to pipeline construction such as downstream greenhouse gas and even gender impacts of resource development.
That legislation and other restrictions depressing the price of Alberta oil will cost every family in the Kainai Nation of Southern Alberta about $1,400 a year, Kainai Chief Roy Fox wrote in a recent letter to Trudeau.
LeBourdais says the equity stake isn’t just about revenues for impoverished Indigenous communities, it also guarantees a real say in environmental oversight of projects like TransMountain.
The B.C. government made a similar agreement on environmental monitoring with Indigenous communities with ocean-based salmon farms in their territory off the north end of Vancouver Island.