It’s quite likely that by year’s end, an Indigenous investor consortium will have acquired majority ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline, the country’s biggest megaproject.
Ottawa is committed to privatizing the Trans Mountain, and it is predisposed to an Indigenous buyer as part of its “economic reconciliation” agenda with the First Nations.
A rumoured half-dozen Indigenous investor consortia are angling for the prize. The Prairies-based Project Reconciliation is on the inside track after providing some detail last week on its $6.8-billion proposal for a 51-per-cent stake in the $9-billion megaproject. (That sum is Ottawa’s cost in buying the 66-year-old pipeline and the estimated expense of tripling its capacity.)
There can only be one winner, but the other Indigenous bidding groups will be girded to take on other large-scale investments.
Indigenous investor groups already boast demonstrated expertise as owners of hundreds of mostly small-scale business enterprises and infrastructure assets.
But a Trans Mountain deal places the Indigenous for the first time at the commanding heights of the economy, along with governments, pension funds and other institutional investors.
Indigenous investing groups have incomparable credibility as environmental and community stewards, and they understand as no other investors both mainstream Canadian and First Nations politics, each notoriously difficult.
Make no mistake: Indigenous investing in sensitive projects will not becalm all First Nations opponents to, for instance, the controversial Trans Mountain.
But an Indigenous-owned Trans Mountain would be a breakthrough that spurs more First Nations investment in the country, by establishing – as treaties for centuries have failed to do – real Indigenous decision-making and benefit-sharing in ancestral lands.
As important, it would help nurture a new Canadian management and investor class, and expedite progress on essential projects mired in gridlock.