First Nations pipeline group leader courts B.C. elders

Head of Project Reconciliation in Vancouver drumming up support for $6.9 billion investment

Delbert Wapass, former chief of the Thunderchild First Nation in Saskatchewan, leads the Project Reconciliation pipeline group. | Submitted Photo

The founder of an indigenous business group that has made a preliminary proposal to the federal government for a $6.9 billion 51% stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline was in Vancouver today speaking to elders at the annual BC Elders Gathering.

Delbert Wapass, former chief of the Thunderchild First Nation near North Battleford, Saskatchewan, is founder of the Project Reconciliation Group.

He was in Vancouver Wednesday, July 24, to explain his proposal to B.C. elders. With 1,600 elders from more than 200 First Nations groups in B.C., Wapass said he thought the gathering was a good opportunity to explain what his project is all about.

“It being ground zero, in terms of the Trans Mountain pipeline, I wanted to show them that respect and, with humility and humbleness, to come and present to them,” he told Business in Vancouver.

Asked how his pitch went over, he said: “I felt good about the reception we got. There are those that were reserved, and there’s probably some in there that didn’t agree, but overall there was no negative reaction.”

Project Reconciliation is one of three competing First Nations groups vying for a stake in the pipeline. One other is the Iron Coalition in Alberta.

Closer to home, Mike LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines First Nation, leads the Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, which aims to secure part ownership for B.C. and Alberta First Nations along the pipeline route.

In the past, LeBourdais has characterized Waspass and his group as “interlopers.” The First Nations Major Projects Coalition and Indian Resource Council have been working together to try to bring all the competing groups together.

LeBourdais is travelling outside of B.C. and was unavailable to comment on whether his group is interested in a partnership with the other two First Nations groups.

Wapass’ group has already made a preliminary proposal to the federal government. It proposes a 51% stake in the existing and expanded pipeline for $6.9 billion, which suggests the group expects the expansion to come in at around $9 billion. The group says it has the backing of a major tier 1 Canadian bank.

Wapass said his group estimates that its 51% share of the profits from an expanded pipeline – after taxes, operating and other costs – would be $250 million to $270 million per year.

Both Project Reconciliation and Western Indigenous Pipeline Group want in on the project before the expansion occurs, not after it is complete. Wapass thinks early ownership by First Nations will go a long way to de-risking the project.

While the Trudeau government has confirmed it is open to First Nations taking an equity stake in the pipeline project, federal finance minister Bill Morneau recently told CBC that his government will likely wait until after the federal election in October before even considering some of the proposals.