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Canadian News Jun 29, 2019 12:49 PM EST

First Nations ambitious for ownership of $7.5 billion TMX expansion

First Nations along the Trans Mountain corridor say they want to own the existing pipeline, build its $7.5 billion expansion and that Ottawa is duty bound to deal with them first over competing equity interests.

First Nations ambitious for ownership of $7.5 billion TMX expansion
Jason Unrau Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

First Nations along the Trans Mountain corridor say they want to own the existing pipeline, build its $7.5 billion expansion and that Ottawa is duty bound to deal with them first over competing equity interests.

“There’s no one other than those folks already on the pipeline who has a say whether this pipeline goes or not…and basically, we want a 51 percent stake” said Joe Dion, CEO of the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group.

“Anybody else tells you they have an inside track on this, it’s BS.”

As CEO and chairman of Frog Lake Energy corp., Canada’s first Indigenous hydrocarbon operator, Dion is a veteran in the industry.

Though other Indigenous groups in Saskatchewan and Alberta have signalled ownership ambitions, Dion is pitching his consortium’s play to twin the 1150 kilometre pipe from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C.  “as a model for the country.”

“This is it. Canada cannot move, Alberta cannot move without First Nations support going forward. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

The group has already secured a shipping arrangement with Suncor,  Dion told The Post Millennial, and remains in talks with other oil sands producers.

Dion said he’s also dealing directly with cabinet members like “Sohi and Morneau” and “talking to First Nations who have not signed impact-benefit-agreements, who never dealt with Kinder Morgan.”

“We are threading the needle for the Government of Canada. They need us and our price is equity. Our price is share in the revenues of this project and not just a small piece either, we’re going for a big piece,” said Dion.

To date, nearly 50 First Nations on the Trans Mountain’s right-of-way back twinning the pipeline and Dion hinted a peeling away some of those who joined the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s court challenge over the National Energy Board’s original approval over insufficient consultation.

Before their challenge, and the federal government’s nationalization of the project for $4.5 billion, Houston-based proponents Kinder Morgan boasted $400 million in ‘Mutual Benefit Agreements’ (MBAs) with First Nations who were already onside.

Now that $400 million figure is looking like peanuts compared to the multi-billion dollar equity stakes being bandied.

On June 18 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved TMX’s expansion and opened the door for 100 percent Indigenous ownership. To date, three groups including Dion’s have made ownership overtures.

The Alberta Iron Coalition, who represent Treaty 6 First Nations in the province, also want an undisclosed stake.

While the coalition did not respond to an interview request from TPM, in a statement following Trudeau’s announcement, coalition chair Chief Tony Alexis called it “an incredible opportunity for Indigenous communities within (Alberta).”

And the third group – arguably the most vocal – is Project Reconciliation, which also wants a 51 percent majority stake.

Saskatchewan Chief Delbert Wapass is chair and founder of Project Reconciliation and says his venture is open to any First Nation or Métis group West of Manitoba.

“To me, it’s reconciliation through economic development,” said Wapass of the impetus behind the ownership play. “Reconciliation is a two way street and by our PM putting out this opportunity in front of us, to say you’re invited to bid on this and there’s no limit, I think it’s great, I think it’s awesome.”

“But the onus is on (us) now, to get together as a collective and come forward with something the government can help backstop and support.”

Whomever takes ownership of TMX, any deal would be a ‘project-based model’  backstopped by a pension fund or public bond issue and repaid through transmission tolls, and in the case of right-of-way First Nations, other profit sharing revenues negotiated with producers.

For Project Reconciliation, a unique feature of its proposal is eventually to establish a sovereign wealth fund that could benefit Indigenous communities for generations.

“We become gold medalists in administrating poverty, and managing poverty,” said Wapass of Project Reconciliation’s broader intention. “I will say that it’s high time that we change that and we start becoming silver medalists and gold medalists in managing wealth.”

But Whispering Pines/Clinton Indian Band Chief Michael LeBourdais, whose members’ land sits atop the current TMX line told The Post Millennial that the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group holds all the cards.

“We can work with the Alberta Iron Coalition guys cause some of their First Nations, they’re on the route of the pipeline,” LeBourdais said. “But we’re not talking to Saskatchewan First Nations right now.”

In the context of the conversation “Saskatchewan First Nations” means Project Reconciliation, an ownership gambit that LeBourdais more or less dismissed.

“They’re opportunists. They don’t live here. We’ve been living with this since the fifties…and I’ve been pushing for an equity stake since 2012,” he said.

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