First Nations-led initiative aims to buy a majority of Trans Mountain Pipeline
By Jennifer Allford, for the Haskayne School of Business
Haskayne School of Business professor Harrie Vredenburg, left, is working alongside Gregory John, a University of Calgary alumnus, and other team members on the First Nations-led initiative to buy a majority of Trans Mountain Pipeline. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
A group of strategic thinkers is working on Project Reconciliation, an innovative initiative that aims to see First Nations in Western Canada buy a majority stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline and expansion (TMX).
Dr. Harrie Vredenburg, PhD, a strategy professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, and Gregory John, BComm’13, a UCalgary senator, are working with Indigenous leaders to acquire a majority stake in the pipeline project from the federal government. Ottawa bought TMX from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018 when the company was about to abandon the project because of years of legal challenges and other delays.
Vredenburg, the Suncor Chair in Strategy and Sustainability at Haskayne, and John and are part of a team that includes experts in capital markets, entrepreneurship and government relations. The team is headed by Delbert Wapass, former chief of the Thunderchild First Nation, who along with other former chiefs from Alberta and B.C. is meeting with the leaders of more than 300 Indigenous communities across Western Canada.
Project Reconciliation “is a game changer,” says John, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta and an Indigenous relations consultant in the energy industry. “It would create an equal partnership and provide an equality of voice in the governance of this project. It would also give First Nations the opportunity to participate in setting up environmental standards that meet their own expectations.”
The Indigenous equity stake would be financed through capital markets and “will not require upfront cash investment by First Nations nor Canadian taxpayer money,” says Vredenburg, executive board member of the pipeline initiative. “We don’t expect that all will sign on, but we hope most will. This is very different than traditional pipeline consultation — ‘Are you OK with this? Can we move forward? Can you sign here please?’ This is an opportunity to have a seat at the table making decisions about environment and culture and also achieve economic sovereignty.”
The team, which came together about six months ago, is hopeful Indigenous ownership could help “un-jam the log jam” that’s delaying construction of the TMX pipeline. A lack of pipeline capacity is affecting the prices Alberta energy producers can get for their product, which in turn is hurting the province’s economy.
“We needed a different way of dealing with this. This is infrastructure development for the 21st century,” says Vredenburg, who has published and taught on the topic. In 2012, John took his course Social Issues, Strategies and Shareholders.
The team has received positive feedback in meetings with business leaders and government officials. “If we can build a $7-billion pipeline project through two provinces which affects over 300 First Nations, it could inspire many other projects,” says John. “It’s a very large transfer of wealth and is not what people perceive as ‘another government handout.’”
The team should have a better sense of the support from First Nations communities in the next month. “We’re trying to change the model of how First Nations are viewed as part of Canadian society,” says John. “It will lower, and in some cases eliminate, barriers to participation for Indigenous people who have for the last 150 years been structurally and intentionally left out.”