Construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline had already begun in 2019 when the company building it, TC Energy, announced it planned to sell up to a 75% stake in the natural gas pipeline.
The company had potential buyers lined up, but didn’t anticipate that one of those buyers would be First Nations.
The company had already signed impact benefits agreements with all First Nations along the pipeline corridor, but now some of them were signalling they wanted more: They wanted an ownership stake in the pipeline, which will supply the LNG Canada plant in Kitimat.
With the help of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, the company and First Nations developed an agreement giving 16 of the nations an option to take a 10% equity stake in the pipeline, once it is completed and in operation.
Meanwhile, several hundred kilometres south, in Squamish, another novel partnership between industry and First Nations had taken shape in the form of an environmental assessment conducted by the Squamish First Nation on the Woodfibre LNG project.
Before supporting the Woodfibre LNG project, the Squamish First Nation insisted on a thorough examination of the project through and indigenous lens -- blending western science and traditional knowledge -- to ensure it would provide benefits to the nation without compromising their values.
“We didn’t want to see a modus operandi of just running roughshod over our territories,” said Squamish heredity Chief Ian Campbell. “We wanted to ensure that there’s accountability and that there’s metrics of success.”
That indigenous assessment, which had 25 conditions for the company, provincial government and FortisBC, resulted in some major design changes for both the LNG plant and the pipeline that will feed it.
For example, the Squamish First Nation expressed concerns about the impact of a new pipeline on the Squamish River estuary, so FortisBC, which is responsible for building a new pipeline connection, agreed to a rerouting.
“We changed the design of the gas line,” said FortisBC CEO Roger Dall’Antonia. “We are now doing a nine-kilometre tunnel under the … estuary, not just because of environmental sensitivity but the cultural importance, which we would not have been aware of.”
The CGL and Woodfibre projects were highlighted Thursday at the third annual Indigenous Partnership Success Showcase, sponsored by Resource Works, as examples of some of the new partnerships being forged between First Nations and industry.
They are being held up as templates for the way major resource projects should be built in Canada going forward.
“We want to be in the driver’s seat,” said Chief Corrina Leween of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, one of the 16 nations taking an equity stake in CGL. “We’re not a passenger anymore in our communities.”
First Nations believe having an ownership position CGL pipeline gives them more control over things that are important to them, like environmental impacts. Having an equity stake in the pipeline will also provide them a new steady source of revenue.
Chief Justin Napoleon of the Saulteau First Nation said some First Nations don’t have the financial wherewithal to even help their own members to obtain mortgages.
“Housing is always an issue on reserve,” he said. “Receiving financing to even get a mortgage to build a house on reserve is very difficult. And if a nation isn’t economically stable and doesn’t have the ability to co-sign these mortgages for our members, it’s almost impossible for members to be able to build their own house on reserve.
“This predictable income is going to give nations the ability to plan their budget every year with this extra money. Each nation will be able to determine where it’s most needed.”
Two First Nations organizations have been instrumental to indigenous people forming business partnerships with industry: The First Nations Major Projects Coalition and the First Nations Finance Authority.
Many First Nations simply don’t have the in-house legal, business and regulatory capacity to negotiate multi-million deals like the one negotiated with CGL. That’s where the major projects coalition comes in, providing technical, legal and business advice.
“I come from a semi-remote community in northwestern British Columbia,” Leween said. “In that community, we have limited resources coming into our community because we are semi-isolated.
“So having the Major Projects Coalition participate with Cheslatta Carrier Nation, and with other First Nations that signed on…has allowed the technical support, the business decision-making support and the financial analysis support that we need.”
Details of the equity deal with First Nations are confidential, so it’s not known how much each First Nation will need to come up with to buy into the pipeline, which was last estimated to cost $6.6 billion, but which TC Energy has warned will likely cost “substantially” more. But it’s safe to say that the buy-in will cost each of the 16 First Nations tens of millions of dollars.
The First Nations Finance Authority could be one of the main sources of borrowing.
“We’re working closely with the First Nations Finance Authority,” Tiffany Murray, Coastal GasLink’s director of Indigenous Affairs, told BIV News. “That’s one of the options we’re looking at ….because they have access to lower cost of capital financing.”
Campbell said the kinds of agreements being struck between industry and First Nations are “unprecedented” and an important part of reconciliation, which he suggested is a two-way street.
“There’s a lot of residual impacts from the Indian Act that were prohibitive for us to participate fully in the economy,” Campbell said. “Now that we’re in an era of reconciliation, these types of gatherings are very important to really enlighten Canadians as to why reconciliation matters to us collectively.
“It’s not just what Canadians are doing for indigenous (people), it’s what we’re doing also for Canadians.”