A number of Indigenous groups have expressed strong interest in acquiring a controlling stake in a controversial oil pipeline expansion project in western Canada that has faced strong criticism from environmental activists and some Indigenous communities along its path.
An Alberta Indigenous group told CBC News it was optimistic about its chances of one day owning a controlling stake in the Trans Mountain oil pipeline after a private meeting with the federal finance minister on Wednesday.
The federal government bought the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMP) that runs from northern Alberta to British Columbia’s Pacific Coast and the expansion project for $4.5 billion last summer.
Constructing the expansion pipeline could cost more than $7 billion.
The expansion of the 1,150-kilometre pipeline that currently carries about 300,000 barrels of oil per day to the oil terminal in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, is seen as critical for Alberta’s and Canada’s economy.
CBC News is reporting that at least five Indigenous groups want a stake in the pipeline.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau met Wednesday representatives of one group, the so-called Iron Coalition, which includes different First Nations and Métis communities from Alberta.
“It was a good discussion,” Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation Chief Tony Alexis, whose community is located 90 km northwest of Edmonton, told CBC News.
The group is co-chaired by Alexis, Chief Calvin Bruneau of the Papaschase First Nation in Edmonton, and Ron Quintal, president of the Fort McKay Métis, located 60 km north of Fort McMurray, the heartland of the Canadian oilsands industry.
The meeting with Morneau was as a preliminary discussion, not a negotiation, Alexis told CBC News.
“There is no commitment of a sale or discussion of a sale until this project is approved,” Alexis said. “So we’re just here looking at the opportunity.”
Morneau said his focus is not on selling the pipeline right now. Instead, the focus is on moving the project forward.
“Any group that is interested in the Trans Mountain pipeline can be doing whatever they see fit from their perspective,” Morneau said in an interview with CBC News
While the Liberal government, which came under fire from opposition parties for its decision to acquire the pipeline and the expansion project is happy to hear about interest in the project, it’s not yet at a stage where it’s ready to talk details, Morneau said.
With files from Kyle Bakx and Geneviève Normand of CBC News