Wait until Trans Mountain pipe built before buying in, Indigenous investors told

CALGARY — Indigenous communities interested in taking an equity stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline should wait until after its controversial expansion is built to avoid risk, says Barrie Robb, a principal with Fivars Consulting Ltd. of Calgary.

Taking an ownership stake in a major energy project can deliver significant rewards, said the consultant who helped broker a $545-million investment by two northern Alberta Indigenous communities in a Suncor Energy Inc. oilsands storage tank farm in 2017.

Industry is a more reliable partner than the government ever has been, he added, speaking at the Indigenous Energy Summit on the Tsuut’ina Nation just south of Calgary on Wednesday.

“If First Nations don’t take control of their lives, who will?” Robb said.

“If the CPP Investment Board, big pension funds, the big life insurance companies, are interested in that kind of a project, why shouldn’t the First Nations be in there as well? It’s the same objectives, the same concerns and the same kinds of returns.”

When the federal government bought Trans Mountain and its controversial expansion project from Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd. last year for $4.5 billion, it signalled that it did not intend to hold it for the long term and that potential buyers included Indigenous groups.

That prospect was welcomed by most Indigenous and industry speakers at the summit, although some voiced the same concerns about regulatory certainty in Canada that other investors have expressed.

Roy Fox, chief of the Kainai First Nation in southern Alberta, said he also wouldn’t recommend buying equity in the pipeline now because of regulatory obstacles that could stand in the way of its expansion project.

“As it stands now, we would not invest. If it was a sure thing, maybe,” he told reporters.

He said, like many other potential energy investors, that he fears for the industry’s future because of Ottawa’s pursuit of Bill C-69 to revamp the National Energy Board and Bill C-48 to ban oil tanker traffic on British Columbia’s northern coast.

The federal bills were also attacked by Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd.

“I think Bill C-48 should just be put away until they can consult with First Nations,” she said. “C-69 … as it stands now, it’s not only insulting and ridiculous to Alberta, it just will not work, so there needs to be some changes.”

Trans Mountain CEO Ian Anderson said he is focused on getting the pipeline expansion built — a process that has been stalled since a court decision set aside its National Energy Board approval last fall — and any future sale will be up to his new employer, the federal government.

“There is no project to invest in at this point,” he said in a speech. “I’ve got to get (regulatory) certificates, we’ve got to get to work. We’ve got to start building this national-interest project and that’s what I remain singularly focused on.”

Stephen Buffalo, CEO of summit sponsor Indian Resource Council, says he is committed to using energy resource development to support prosperity on Canadian reserves despite “Facebook warriors” who have branded him a “sell-out” on social media.

“You think you’re trying to do good for the people but some people, they just don’t understand this industry and they don’t understand our end game,” he said.

“Our end game is not to own a pipeline, it’s Indigenous ownership (of resources).”

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