Opinion: Pipelines shouldn’t rely on ethnicity

It’s noteworthy that Indigenous leaders are exploring the possibility of buying the Trans Mountain pipeline, but the suggestion raises some worrisome questions.

A group calling itself the Indian Resources Council of Canada is meeting this week at a Calgary resort and casino to see if 134 First Nations bands can come up with a strategy to move forward.

There’s many Canadians who will applaud the notion of Indigenous ownership of the project if it allows expansion of a pipeline that has been carrying Alberta oil to the West Coast since the 1950s.

“We all want a safe and proper environment — the environment is so key,” the council’s chief executive, Stephen Buffalo, told the CBC.

“But we can continue to still do some economic development and have that balance. And that’s what we need to strive for — to find that balance.”

Good for Buffalo, but he and his First Nation employers will have to wait for the federal government and Canada’s unpredictable court system to pluck the pipeline out of the quagmire it’s currently stuck in, unless they’re prepared to take a great risk.

Construction delays were so grievous that its former owner, Kinder Morgan Canada, was prepared to walk away from the project, prompting the federal government to buy it for $4.5 billion.

Shortly later, the Federal Court of Appeal weighed in, overturning the federal government’s approval. The court said there hadn’t been enough consultation with First Nations, nor had potential marine impacts been adequately studied.

Say what you want about U.S. President Donald Trump’s dream of building a pricey barrier between America and Mexico, but at least taxpayers there would have a wall. In Canada’s case, there’s no assurance taxpayers will get anything for their $4.5 billion, beyond ownership of the existing line, as people have joked on social media.

Given the entrenched position of radical First Nations members who oppose the pipeline, construction isn’t likely to go smoothly, even if the courts belatedly give it their blessing.

Canadians recently witnessed hereditary chiefs hold up work on a liquefied natural gas pipeline in British Columbia, even though the project has the support of the band’s elected leaders.

The reality is that Indigenous people don’t always hold the same opinion, just as members of other groups in society don’t always agree with one another. What everyone must do, however, is obey the law.

How long will it be before noisy splinter groups and their hangers-on are deemed irrelevant, or more appropriately, illegitimate?

The greatest worry about the hope for an Indigenous-owned pipeline is that it raises the spectre that laws aren’t equally applied in Canada.

Kinder Morgan Canada, a publicly traded company employing thousands of workers, can’t apparently build a pipeline, but an ownership group comprised of First Nations is regarded as possessing a better likelihood of success.

“I think it’s a very exciting option, a very exciting opportunity,” Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday of the proposal.

The would-be Indigenous ownership group deserves all the support in the world, but so should any other investor prepared to responsibly build and operate essential infrastructure to create wealth in Canada.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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