A former Enbridge executive has been appointed to head a committee that will advise the federal government as it consults with Indigenous communities that want a financial stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau says Linda Coady will lead a group of experts that will help the government during the engagement process.
Coady was chief sustainability officer for Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. and was the former co-chair of the government’s Generation Energy Council.
The government says a number of Indigenous communities have expressed interest in participating economically in Trans Mountain through equity and revenue sharing.
Morneau sent letters on July 9 to the 129 potentially affected Indigenous communities, or their delegates, that might have an interest in securing economic partnership in the oil pipeline.
The letters say the government will host discussions with First Nations this month in Ottawa, Victoria, Vancouver, Kamloops, B.C. and Edmonton that will determine what that potential economic participation could look like.
“The Trans Mountain expansion project presents a real economic opportunity for Canadians, and for Indigenous communities,” Morneau said in a release Friday.
“With the approval of the project, we can begin discussions with the many communities that may be interested in becoming partners in getting Canada’s natural resources to market.
“Our government looks forward to moving the project forward in a way that reflects our commitment to reconciliation.”
Morneau said the government intends the engagement process to be “open and fair.”
He said the discussions will be guided by the idea that participation of Indigenous communities could help their economic development, that the government bought Trans Mountain to benefit all Canadians, and that the pipeline will be built and operated on a commercial basis.
Morneau said Indigenous communities that are unable to attend the meetings can meet by teleconference or submit views in writing.
Other interested parties, including the general public, can also have their say until Aug. 30.
Earlier this summer an Indigenous-led group called Project Reconciliation said it could make a bid for majority ownership of the pipeline.
The group said almost 340 Indigenous communities across British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan could choose to share ownership in the project that would ship crude from the Alberta oilsands to the west coast and from there to overseas markets.
But another organization called the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group has argued that Trans Mountain should be owned by communities actually located on the route as they are most at risk from an oil spill.
The proposal to twin an existing pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C. was first approved by cabinet in 2016, but resistance to it by the British Columbia government, environmentalists and some Indigenous groups grew.
The federal government purchased the existing line last year from Texas-based Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion when the company threatened to walk away because of the uncertainty.
The Federal Court of Appeal shelved the original approval last summer and the federal government approved the pipeline expansion again in June after a second round of consultations with First Nations.
Last month, six First Nations filed another legal challenge against the project, saying Canada’s ownership of the corporation created a bias that prevented full consultations as ordered by the courts.