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OPINION John Ivison: Indigenous bids for Trans Mountain offer ‘reconciliation through economic development’


There is plenty of evidence to contradict the stereotype that all Indigenous Canadians are trapped in misery. Take the pipeline expansion, for one

John Ivison - Indigenous bids for Trans Mountain offer 'reconciliation through economic development'

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In his book Enlightenment Now, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker argues that the prevailing culture of pessimism has made the very notion of progress unfashionable.

The release this week of the final report of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls lends to the impression that we have never had it so bleak when it comes to Canada’s relationship to its First Peoples.

Yet there is plenty of evidence to contradict the stereotype that all Indigenous Canadians are trapped in a cycle of misery.

Take the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Liberal government will decide next week whether to approve the project, having been forced to re-examine the environmental review and Indigenous consultation process by the Federal Court of Appeal.

The government will make its decision at a cabinet meeting on June 18, after receiving the findings of an extended consultation exercise.

If the project gets the green light, it looks increasingly likely that the government will invite bids from the private sector to buy the pipeline.

A sale before the next election would not only get the federal government out of a pipeline business it never wished to be in, it would also raise billions of dollars that could be put towards pet projects such as a green technology or Indigenous business fund.

“This is an opportunity and I don’t want it squandered. At the end of the day, this is reconciliation through economic development”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has made no secret of the fact that Indigenous participation in Trans Mountain through an equity stake or revenue-sharing would be a welcome development.

As such, credible Indigenous-led groups have emerged to purchase significant interests in the project.

The most developed is called Project Reconciliation, which proposes to buy a 51-per-cent stake in TMX. The group has invited Indigenous communities in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan to participate as shareholders, with the goal of creating a sovereign wealth fund.

Delbert Wapass, a former chief of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, is the executive chairman of the group and was in Ottawa this week meeting Liberal MPs. He said the MMIW report was correct in claiming a “genocide” of Indigenous peoples has taken place.

“But what is helping that situation to occur? Poverty within our communities. We need to change that narrative,” he said. “This is an opportunity and I don’t want it squandered. At the end of the day, this is reconciliation through economic development.”

John Ivison - Indigenous bids for Trans Mountain offer 'reconciliation through economic development' 2

He said he recognizes the environmental concerns of some First Nations along the right-of-way and on the B.C. coast but contended that an Indigenous-led project would provide an opportunity to protect land, water, animals and fish.

“This would put First Nations in the driving seat to dictate and develop environmental law and marine safety, to look after the salmon, the waters and so on,” he said.

Project Reconciliation is not yet ready to reveal its level of support among First Nations, or its financial backers but Wapass is confident his group will be able to raise the projected $7.6 billion necessary to buy a majority stake in the existing pipeline ($2.3 billion) and fund half of the expansion (another $4.6 billion). The group’s financial summary anticipates a syndicated bond issue underpinned by 20-year shipping agreements with oil producers that would not require First Nations to invest cash up front.

After costs and expenses, the group projects annual profits of $250 million, of which 20 per cent would be distributed to shareholders and 80 per cent injected into a sovereign wealth fund.

There is obviously the prospect for many a slip between cup and lip, but two things can be said with confidence – one, that no-one is going to get this pipeline built without a significant Indigenous ownership stake; and, two, once built, pipelines have very high rates of return.

For more information go to www.ProjectReconcile.ca or contact info@ProjectReconcile.ca.

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