Fossil fuel investments must be on the table as Ottawa considers a federal loan-guarantee program to boost Indigenous participation in the energy sector, according to Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Sharleen Gale, chair of the First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC).
Flanked by senior executives from Canadian energy giants Enbridge (ENB.TO)(ENB) and Cenovus Energy (CVE.TO)(CVE) at an event held Thursday at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, Gale stressed the need for a “sector agnostic” approach.
“We want to be part of the oil and gas industry,” she said. “We’ve seen far too long industry coming in and not including us. First Nations have been left behind for far too long.”
Earlier this year, a coalition of Indigenous leaders, business and banking executives urged top federal officials to create a national framework to allow First Nations to take equity in projects built on their territories. At the provincial level, Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have established Indigenous loan-guarantee programs.
In an op-ed published Thursday in the Financial Post newspaper, Business Council of Canada special adviser Heather Exner-Pirot pointed to “growing concern” that a federal-level program could exclude oil and gas in order to advance the government’s climate goals.
“Those policies are meant to be challenged, especially if there is an Indigenous influence and Indigenous perspective added to that,” Gale said, adding that Fort Nelson First Nation has ties to the conventional energy sector spanning natural gas to geothermal.
Cynthia Hansen, president of Enbridge’s gas transmission and midstream business, credits Alberta’s loan-guarantee program for the company’s sale of an 11.57 per cent stake in seven oil pipelines to a group of Indigenous communities for $1.12 billion last year. She calls a federal-level program a “true opportunity.”
“We really believe now that we do need to have full economic participation as we go forward with projects,” she said in an interview. “There is just such an untapped opportunity here.”
Cenovus executive chair Alex Pourbaix said on Thursday that his company is looking to grow its financial ties to Indigenous communities after meeting its goal ahead of schedule to spend $1.2 billion with Indigenous businesses by 2025.
FNMPC chief executive officer Niilo Edwards says a “generational opportunity” is on the table for many northern and remote communities amid growing energy needs. However, he warns of “gaps in the system,” with scarce capital at a competitive rate available for the 144 member communities represented by the coalition.
“Our members have about $1-billion worth of First Nation equity that needs to find competitive financing,” he said in an interview. “The private sector really wants to include Indigenous nations as equity partners. But if there isn't a viable way to finance that contribution, the private sector doesn't want to go out there and raise unreasonable expectations that can't be met.”
James Jenkins, executive director of the Vancouver-based group Indigenous Clean Energy, says Indigenous equity participation in energy projects is on a “positive trajectory” today.
“I think the next stage would be to foster leadership,” he told Yahoo Finance Canada. “Thinking more about co-management, a deeper sense of investment from the Indigenous nations. I think we have more work to do.”
Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.