It looks like there may be a buyer for the Trans Mountain Pipeline after all. Whispering Pines First Nation chief Michael LeBourdais is the spokesperson for a group of First Nations that intends to put together a bid to buy the pipeline.
I didn’t think it would have a buyer until after it was built and in operation. Turns out I may be wrong.
I talked to the Chief Thursday to see what kind of progress he is making in assembling his consortium to purchase the project. Interestingly, he started off opposed to Trans Mountain when Kinder Morgan first approached his band, but changed to a supporter after four years of negotiations with the company.
He was pretty straight up about the reason for his band’s change of heart. They are sick and tired of everyone else profiting off development that happens on or near their community and they want to be a part of it. So do a total of 33 First Nations in British Columbia and 10 First Nations in Alberta, all of whom signed community benefits agreements with Kinder Morgan worth $400 million. They all want to see the project proceed.
One of the things Chief LeBourdais had hoped to achieve in negotiations was that his band also wanted an equity stake. With the federal government’s (hopefully temporary) interim purchase of the pipeline, he now sees an avenue to get that. He’s already talked to more than half of the 43 First Nations that have a direct interest and is encouraged by the positive feedback.
At the moment, he is working towards having a 51 per cent First Nations ownership stake. When I asked him whether the federal or provincial government would hold the remaining stake, he said not necessarily. Private sector companies have also expressed an interest in owning five, 10, or 15 per cent of the project.
I asked him how he was going to deal with the issue of First Nations opposition to the project, which I think falls into two categories.
There is one group that seems to never want anything to be built anywhere for environmental reasons. He thinks that most of the criticisms of the pipeline are irrational and overblown, and opposition can be overcome with discussion and facts.
The other group of First Nations opponents are those who aren’t on the line and don’t have a community benefits agreement, so they don’t have any particular reason to see it succeed. He thinks he can win over that group, too. If any First Nation wants to take an equity stake in the project, which is possible with his proposal, they can enjoy the benefits of ownership such as dividends or profit sharing.
Chief LeBourdais is hoping to finish his consultation and have a proposal to take to the federal government by January. All things considered, that’s lightning speed.
If this is what it takes to get a social licence to build pipelines, then so be it. I think we should be rooting for Chief LeBourdais to succeed.