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Ottawa Unlikely to Unload Trans Mountain Before Federal Election, Despite Some First Nations’ Interest

The federal government will almost certainly retain ownership of the Trans Mountain Pipeline beyond this year’s federal election, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in separate media interviews earlier this week, even with a group of First Nations expressing strong interest in bidding for the troubled project.

“We’re going to remain open to talking to Indigenous peoples,” but “it’s not a time yet where we can conclude on them,” Morneau told CBC’s The House Saturday morning.

“We welcome those discussions. We’re not having those discussions right now,” he said earlier in the week, outside a cabinet retreat in Sherbooke, Quebec. “Our view is that the potential for Indigenous peoples to be engaged could be positive for Indigenous peoples, could be positive for the pipeline, could be positive for Canadians.” Eventually, “those discussions would be appropriately held with Indigenous peoples as well as other potential owners.”

“The transfer of this project to the private sector may happen sometime in the future, if the issues that have been identified by the federal court have been resolved,” Sohi added.

The comments followed a meeting last week on the Tsuut’ina Nation outside Calgary, where representatives of more than 100 First Nations considered four possible ownership models for taking over the pipeline. The session was convened by the Indian Resource Council (IRC), which brings together 134 First Nations that have oil and gas on their lands.

“We all want a safe and proper environment; the environment is so key,” said IRC CEO Stephen Buffalo. “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.”

On The House Saturday, Chief Mike LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines First Nation north of Kamloops, British Columbia said Morneau seemed taken aback when First Nations involved in the discussions first expressed interest in the pipeline in June. He said his community “has met with banks, industry, and other potential equity partners, and it’s prepared to make a pitch for a 51% share of the pipeline,” CBC reports.

“If LeBourdais is moving fast, it’s because he’s not the only one interested in a piece of the pipeline,” the national broadcaster adds: The IRC has been working on a parallel bid, as has Project Reconciliation, a new business launched by Delbert Wapass, former chief of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan.

“We’re not opposed to the [IRC] buying a piece of it, but if they think they’re going to purchase it without our co-operation that’s probably a non-starter,” LeBourdais told CBC. “They’re going to have to come and talk to us. There’s 45 First Nations along the pipeline that have yet to hear from the Indian Resource Council. What we would like to do is include them in our bid. Now we need to have that conversation.”

Meanwhile, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is saying the federal government should abandon Trans Mountain if project consultations fail to satisfy all the Indigenous communities with a stake in the decision, CBC states. “They can’t say that they want to build something and say it’s going to be built, and then on the other side say, ‘We’re going to meaningfully consult with communities.’ That is not meaningful consultation if you’ve already decided the outcome,” said Singh, who’s currently seeking a House of Commons seat in a byelection in Burnaby South.

While acknowledging that Supreme Court rulings have put limits on the amount of consultation required, he added that “we’ve got to be committed to doing more than just checking off a box. That’s not enough. That’s not actually going to be reconciliation.”