Ottawa will soon announce plans for exploratory talks with Indigenous groups on possible equity and revenue-sharing arrangements on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, according to a letter written by Finance Minister Bill Morneau and obtained by CBC News.
Morneau says in the March 15 letter that an announcement “in the coming days” would confirm the government’s commitment to beginning talks to explore the possible “economic participation” of Indigenous groups on the Trans Mountain project — if it moves ahead.
“It is premature to move forward with any discussions on this prior to a final decision on the project,” said Morneau’s letter, which was sent to a B.C. First Nation involved in Trans Mountain consultations.
“If the government does not approve the project, these discussions would not happen.”
CBC News is not revealing the identity of the First Nation that received the letter, at the request of the source who provided the letter on condition of anonymity.
The letter said equity or revenue-sharing arrangements “in any form would tie to the project’s in-service date.” The letter said this would provide “ample time to explore, discuss and determine what is viable.”
Revenue sharing or equity arrangements would be separate from mutual benefit agreements that have already been signed or will be signed by First Nations with Trans Mountain Corporation on the project, said the letter.
Morneau’s Finance Department would lead the exploratory talks, it said.
Morneau is expected to table the federal budget on Tuesday. His office did not respond to a request for comment on the exploratory talks
The letter said federal representatives heard during consultations that Indigenous groups were interested in having an equity or revenue-sharing arrangements on the project.
“I welcome the interest, and hope to engage on the topic,” said Morneau in the letter.
It said the government would base exploratory talks on four principles:
- The potentially impacted Indigenous communities could have an opportunity for meaningful economic participation in the project.
- The participation of Indigenous groups could help the economic development of their communities in keeping with the spirit of reconciliation.
- The government invested in the Trans Mountain Corporation to benefit all Canadians.
- The project would be built and operated on a commercial basis.
Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said last week the new round of consultations with over 100 Indigenous communities on the Trans Mountain expansion would wrap up in about three months.
Morneau’s letter said the project would go before cabinet once consultations wrap up.
The consultations were forced by an August 2018 Federal Court of Appeal decision that quashed cabinet approval of the project. The court found Ottawa’s initial round of consultations to be inadequate.
The Appeal Court also said the National Energy Board (NEB) needed to assess the impact of increased tanker traffic from the project on marine life — specifically the southern resident killer whale.
The NEB last month recommended cabinet approve the project and the regulatory body imposed 156 conditions on the project.
The federal government announced it was buying the Trans Mountain pipeline from Kinder Morgan in May 2018.
The $7.4-billion expansion project would nearly triple the existing 1,500-kilometre pipeline’s capacity — from 300,000 barrels of oil per day to 890,000.
The expanded project’s contents would include bitumen mined in Alberta from its Sherwood Park terminal to tankers docking at the expanded Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C.