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Indigenous TMX interests sidelined as premiers, opposition leaders posture in minority government lead-up

Indigenous interests, particularly regarding TMX, took a back seat last week as premiers and opposition leaders postured.
Jason Unrau Montreal, QC

As opposition leaders and provincial premiers postured last week over meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, lost in the chatter was the power indigenous people wield–arguably quite a bit in this minority government the Liberals find themselves attempting to manage.

Like Parliament, and the rest of our divided country–Wexiteers, Quebec separatists and everyone else somewhere in between–indigenous interests are a scatter-shot amalgam of pro- and anti-development camps, or like Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde, who plays it right down the middle on matters like Trans Mountain.

And the elephant in the room is TMX, a twinning of an existing bitumen pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver; a project that Trudeau nationalized in 2018, then earlier this year offered to sell lock-stock-and-barrel to indigenous people.

Since Trudeau’s offer, three buyers have emerged: Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, Project Reconciliation and Alberta Iron Coalition. As well, a fourth Métis concern from provincial settlements in Alberta who are already affected by the oil patch and say they are being left out of future development decisions.

Given this overlooked dynamic, it’s rich to hear Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Blanchet stridently remark that he would love to help Alberta, just not its “petrol-state” ambitions, while his province aims to use and export Alberta’s cleanest “petrol-product” (i.e. natural gas).

This of course, while the province’s biggest liquid natural gas pipeline and along with Énergie Saguenay’s export terminal, will run Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s all new, C-69 regulatory gauntlet.

New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh’s threat of voting no-confidence his first crack after the Throne speech–in early December after the House of Commons reconvenes December 5 and a Speaker is elected–is as unlikely as it is dubious.

The NDP began #elxn43 with a significantly smaller campaign war chest than its frontline competition, and would putter on fumes through a winter, snap election that most everyone in Canada would resent.

But Trudeau only needs one of the runner-ups to keep his minority government alive, and could end up leaning on Blanchet as much or more than Singh.

And this Wednesday, Trudeau will unveil his new cabinet that speculative coverage indicates could be larger than his previous gender-balanced executive.

With finishing TMX an apparent priority, according to Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Amerjeet Sohi’s now-vacant Industry portfolio, will be one appointment to watch.

And without any Grit MPs in Saskatchewan or Alberta there has been much speculation about who Trudeau could tap for cabinet representation for either province, whose premiers have serious issues with Trudeau.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney continues to use TMX in limbo as a cudgel, while Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, whose province is challenging the federal carbon tax’s constitutionality, said Trudeau was uncompromising on the tax.

Moe had asked for a pause on the carbon levy and told reporters he wanted more pipelines to tidewater than just TMX–following the meeting, Moe more or less described a recalcitrant Trudeau and said that Canada could “expect more of the same”.

Which makes TMX so vital for Trudeau and the Liberals.  It’s supposed to be their grand compromise with the oil patch and western tidewater shots, even grandfathered past C-69, sweeping new environmental legislation that Kenney and other detractors call the “no more pipelines bill”.

Gazoduc, which includes a 782 km pipeline, is but one of several projects undergoing C-69’s new assessment process and will test Kenney’s and other bill detractors’ no-pipeline claims.

But TMX is far from a done deal and short of building it by fiat; an option available but never wielded by Trudeau or his predecessor Stephen Harper, during an era of indigenous reconciliation, a pending Federal Court of Appeal’s decision hangs over the entire affair.

Six First Nations were granted leave to appeal cabinet’s second approval of the project–one these groups successfully made against National Energy Board’s first permitting–and their latest case remains before the court.

On the other side of this indigenous TMX equation are literally dozens of groups looking to buy a stake in the project with the possibility to create division within the pro-development indigenous set.

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