TRANS MOUNTAIN – Killing project would hurt indigenous communities

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

Troy Media

Ottawa needs to finally declare through legislation that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is to the national advantage of Canada.

Joseph Quesnel.

Doing so would prove to the Canadian public and Indigenous communities that the federal government is serious about seeing it completed.

Make no mistake, killing the project would be devastating for many Indigenous communities along the corridor.

The matter becomes more pressing given the recent report on the project by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO). The PBO determined that the net present value of the pipeline is negative $600 million, leaving it worth about $1.2 billion less than the PBO’s estimate in December 2020. Added costs have also pushed the project’s completion date to the third quarter of 2023.

The PBO also found that cancelling the project would result in a significant loss to the federal government, forcing a write-off of $14.4 billion in assets.

Ottawa has stated it has no plans to cancel the multi-billion-dollar project, yet it could be easy to now hide behind these cost overruns and abort the whole thing. Given the anti-energy bias of this government, that is not impossible to imagine.

We also know there are environmental activists who are conducting a targeted campaign to kill Trans Mountain, now going after investors and insurers. It is critical the government formally defend the pipeline.

The 1,150-km Trans Mountain pipeline carries about 300,000 barrels of oil per day and is the only export pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. The expansion will increase capacity to about 890,000 barrels per day.

The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown how dependent many European countries are on Russian oil and natural gas imports. Ottawa’s professed commitment to help NATO allies has finally turned our government’s head to the importance of energy security globally.

But even before the growing global energy crisis, the federal government should have declared through legislation that the Trans Mountain Expansion is to the general advantage of Canada. Particularly because of its importance to Indigenous communities.

The facts speak for themselves. To date, Trans Mountain says it has signed 69 agreements with Indigenous groups in B.C. and Alberta that represent more than $600 million in benefits and opportunities.

This includes training programs for community members, financial compensation, environmental commitments and legacy projects that will last beyond construction, such as projects developing yards that can later be used for housing, schools, soccer fields, or the establishment of a business such as a roadside restaurant or gas station.

The company has stated that, so far, more than 2,500 Indigenous workers have worked on the project, representing 11 per cent of the entire workforce.

A vast network of Indigenous-owned and joint venture businesses are participating. So far, more than $3.2 billion has been awarded to Indigenous firms in more than 4,700 contracts.

The Trans Mountain Expansion has also engaged the interest of multiple Indigenous groups – like Nesika Services, Project Reconciliation, and Chinook Pathways – that have come together seeking equity ownership stakes in the project.

These partnerships represent the maturing of Indigenous capital. Strategically dumping Trans Mountain would let these Indigenous groups down and undermine the confidence of Indigenous communities in their ability to work with the federal government on resource projects.

The federal government’s fixation on undermining the energy sector at every turn and its flawed “Just Transition” plan makes it more likely it could abandon the project if conditions were right.

In June, a spokesperson for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland stated the project remains in the national interest.

But in 2018, Alberta Senator Douglas Black introduced legislation to formally declare Trans Mountain in the national interest, which would protect the project from disruptions and ensure its completion. However, the Trudeau government allowed that bill to die in the House.

Ottawa must bring in similar legislation and, for the sake of energy security and Indigenous prosperity, ensure the Trans Mountain Expansion gets built now more than ever.

Joseph Quesnel is a Nova Scotia-based consultant with the Canadian Energy Centre who is Quebec Metis by heritage.

© Troy Media

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4 Comments on TRANS MOUNTAIN – Killing project would hurt indigenous communities

  1. I dont think you’re going to get much of a statement out of the federal government at this point, but at the same time construction will trudge on and it will be completed, be it severely over budget and over schedule. I dont expect to hear a lot out of the feds until ribbon cutting day, as that way they can avoid questions about cost and schedule.

    Its fair to say that Covid and other issues played a small role in the project running late and therefore over budget, but thats a small part of the reason. So much more is on the reality that management of the project switched from Kinder Morgan to government run. What was lost was the ‘on the ground’ ability to deal with issues that crop up, and solving stuff on the fly, to get the day moving and pipe laid.

    When a government is in the chief management role of a massive cross country project like this, any and all issues will have to run up the flagpole to make sure that environmental and otherwise rules and regs are followed to the letter, and no one will be willing to make a decision on the ground. What you end up with are very expensive workers sitting around for days or weeks. So far we know that various stoppages have happened dozens of times, and hundreds of days have been lost. This has cost a fortune.

    At the end of the day, it will be done, then the feds will sell it to the First nations consortium at a loss and the difference will be written off, and Alberta bitumen will flow. The last the feds will do is cancel this project now, that just wont happen … but that doesnt mean that they are going to hit a microphone weekly and tout how proud they are for continuing on it.

  2. This government is NOT anti-energy but at least environmentally aware. But with ongoing climate catastrophes coming our way indigenous community along the span of the pipeline will eventually long for such position.

  3. Denis Walsh // August 8, 2022 at 5:34 PM // Reply

    I agree with the writer Joseph Quesnel, its is time the federal government demonstrated to the Canadian public and indigenous communities, they are serious about completing the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. The taxpayers of Canada have invested billions of dollars to date. It is far too late to turn back now, forcing a write-off of $14.4 billion in assets, which would undermine the confidence of indigenous communities along with a vast network of workers and contractors.

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