Premier Jason Kenney has promised the introduction of legislation this fall to establish the Indigenous Opportunities Corporation.
Kenney made the announcement June 10 following a meeting he and his Cabinet had in Edmonton with Alberta chiefs.
The IOC, originally called the Aboriginal Opportunities Corporation, was an election pledge made by the United Conservative Party. As promised, Kenney confirmed the IOC would be “backstopped” initially with $1 billion from the province “to promote financial participation in, and an ownership stake in, major projects that can help to lift (Indigenous) people from poverty to prosperity.”
The IOC would aid First Nations in building financial capacity, provide loan guarantees and financial expertise to help First Nations negotiate on projects. The IOC would also provide support for alternative energy and other types of economic development.
Treaty 6 Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, while supportive of the IOC, advised that legislation be approached carefully.
“When we talk about Treaty and corporation at the same time, you have to be cautious and actually ensure there’s a non-derogation clause in the agreement, that anything we do through the corporation will not jeopardize or impact or derogate from the Treaty rights that we have,” he said.
The first major project that could be supported by IOC is already being discussed by First Nations. Kenney said he is aware of “at least four consortiums” that have expressed interest in an ownership stake in the Trans Mountain Pipeline and expansion. TMX is presently owned by the federal government, which purchased it from Kinder Morgan in 2018 when the approval process was delayed.
“We’re thrilled to see that level of interest,” said Kenney. “We encourage them in their efforts, but hopefully they can come to some kind of consortium so we’re not having to pick winners or losers.”
Kenney admitted that Monday’s discussion with leaders about oil and gas development wasn’t met with unanimous support although there was “broad consensus.”
Littlechild, who spearheaded the meeting, said a balance was needed between development and the environment.
“There were concerns, of course, about is it possible to have sustainable development and promote respect for Mother Earth at the same time? And I think clearly, from our experience, the answer is yes. It’s not ‘no’ to any development or ‘yes’ to all development. We need to seek a balance. That’s been the approach of those successful First Nations who’ve been able to capitalize on that opportunity,” said Littlechild.
Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey said balancing development with the environment was critical, but believes the IOC is a valuable tool for First Nations in his treaty area.
“This fund will backstop investments for First Nations to have their foot in the door for economic benefits in Alberta,” he said.
Kainai Chief Roy Fox went a step further saying he supported the province’s push to do away with Bills C-48 and C-69, which he said would hurt the economy and the movement of oil. Bill C-48 imposes a tanker moratorium on the West Coast, while Bill C-69 impacts provincial jurisdiction on resource development.
“So we continue to do what we can because we feel that we need to work together with Alberta. We need to ensure that we get the best return for our product. It seems that other governments want to reduce the business activity in western Canada, a great deal of the business activity,” said Fox.
He added that oil prices would not rise until transmission of oil to the West Coast was guaranteed.
To that end, Kenney noted he had been joined by the premiers of Ontario, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories in sending a joint letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voicing opposition, once more, to Bills C-48 and C-69.
Kenney said Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson would be undertaking “extensive consultation” over the summer prior to introducing the IOC legislation in the fall session. He also said that Indigenous people would have “significant” representation on the IOC board.
Littlechild said it was important that expertise also be included on the board.
“I think it was a good start. We look forward to what developments can and will occur,” said Noskey.