Feds snub Indigenous groups in talks to purchase Trans Mountain pipeline

BMO Capital Markets and TD Securities said despite current expenditures, the $30.9 billion project is still expected to generate earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of more than $2.4 billion annually.

Feds snub Indigenous groups in talks to purchase Trans Mountain pipeline
Facebook/ Steven Guilbeault, Chrystia Freeland and Jonathan Wilkinson.
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Despite Trans Mountain quadrupling its costs since 2018, several Indigenous nations and organizations have expressed interest in purchasing a stake in the Crown-owned pipeline.

"It means the entire pie for the project is smaller," said Paul Poscente, Executive Director of Nesika Services. "We've done some modelling based on the publicly available information, and it's absolutely still viable."

"We believe Canada can sell a portion of this pipeline to Indigenous communities commercially. We have been urging Canada to start a negotiation."

Project Reconciliation managing director Stephen Mason also said his group isn't going away.

However, the federal government did not invite several interested parties to phase one of those talks, including Project Reconciliation and Nesika Services.

"None of us [groups] are invited into phase one," said Michelle Goodkey, chief sustainability officer and vice president of external relations with Project Reconciliation.

"That [invitation] is with the nations directly with the government. So, individuals that are part of those organizations, those nations, are invited, but the actual entities, those five, including us, are not invited to that phase one," she said.

Goodkey added that neither Project Reconciliation Initiative, Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, Nesika Services, Natural Law Energy and Indigena Capital — formed after Parliament purchased Trans Mountain from Kinder Morgan Inc. — received an invite.

"After three to five years of all of us working on the ground with communities, none of us are at the table."

As the only pipeline to move oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast, then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau assured Canadians they would "make a profit" on the pipeline expansion.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland concurred in February 2022 that it remains a "serious and necessary project" in the national interest.

However, the project's anticipated cost has quadrupled to nearly $31 billion since 2018 — up from $21.4 billion last year and $13.2 billion in 2020. 

Additionally, Export Development Canada (EDC) signed a new loan guarantee of roughly $3 billion in July, though it first appeared on the agency's website on August 4.

The Trans Mountain Corporation (TMX) also received a $3 billion loan guarantee between late March and early May this year after receiving a $10 billion loan guarantee in 2022 from the federal government.

Canada's finance ministry did not respond to a request for comment by Reuters on the loan guarantee. 

Government records also indicate the taxpayer-owned project failed to account for millions of dollars in its total cost, including additional government subsidies — disputing Cabinet's claim that "no more public money will be used to complete the Trans Mountain Expansion."

The latest figure does not include related expenses like $32 million to address "concerns raised by Indigenous groups regarding the Trans Mountain Expansion project," said the March 21 memo Supplementary Estimates.

"This funding is not for the Trans Mountain Expansion construction," it clarified. "This funding is to continue to deliver on the government's Indigenous accommodation commitments and to address potential impacts to Indigenous rights."

On August 2, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland sent a letter to Indigenous nations stipulating access to capital so they don't risk their own money to purchase stakes in the pipeline.

According to Bloomberg, Indigenous equity interest in Trans Mountain would provide them with cash flows and allow them to jointly exercise governing rights.

A Finance spokesperson noted the government has intended to seek Indigenous economic participation in the project since 2019.

"The letter sent last week represents the next step in the federal government's commitment that Indigenous communities share in the economic benefits derived from Trans Mountain," said spokesperson Katherine Cuplinskas without providing more details.

Project Reconciliation confirmed they did not receive that letter — despite forming as a "vehicle […] for the recognized Indigenous communities […] so that they control and own the pipeline."

"But now, with the letter and the outlined process, we're going to see where we have an opportunity to participate," said Robert Morin, chair of Project Reconciliation.

He maintains the group is still "very interested" in the energy infrastructure, as "there's still revenue to be made off this project."

BMO Capital Markets and TD Securities said despite current expenditures, the project is still expected to generate earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of more than $2.4 billion annually.

However, the Trans Mountain Corporation (TMX) has claimed the current cost estimate excludes reserves for "extraordinary risks" and could once again change.

They attributed the quadrupling of costs to the B.C. floods, unexpected significant archaeological discoveries and challenging terrain for the cost increases in recent years.

The 890,000 barrel-per-day pipeline expansion will nearly triple the barrels flowing and open access to Asian markets. However, regulatory delays and hefty budget overruns have beset it on top of the environmental opposition.

"TMX is very polarizing [owing to the] protection of the environment [because] pipeline integrity is always in question," said Indigenous Resource Centre President Stephen Buffalo.

Morin clarified that ownership provides Indigenous communities "real say" in the operation of that pipeline, creating a safeguard on pipeline integrity and the environment.

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