Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh First Nations react to Kinder Morgan pipeline decision

The federal government’s decision to buy the assets of the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion prompted swift reaction Tuesday from local First Nations who are opposing the project.

Rueben George, spokesman for the Tsleil-Waututh’s Sacred Trust Initiative which is opposing the pipeline, called the decision a bad risk for Canadian taxpayers.

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George, who has previously travelled to speak to Kinder Morgan shareholders, said he can understand why Kinder Morgan wants out of the project: “It’s not a good investment for the shareholders.” But he said Ottawa’s decision to step in doesn’t change the Tsleil-Waututh’s opposition to the project. “Our court case is against Canada,” he said. “It doesn’t change anything.”

Will George, a Tsleil-Waututh member who has been camped out at a traditional “watch house” on Burnaby Mountain, echoed similar thoughts. “This decision changes nothing,” he said. “We’re just going to amp up our opposition.”

George said when he heard the news, “Initially I was sad and heartbroken,” but those emotions gave way to anger.

The Squamish Nation, which is also challenging the federal approval process in the courts, also issued a statement saying the nation is “appalled” by the federal government’s decision.

“This is a continued betrayal of promises made to us by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” said Khelsilem, an elected councillor and spokesman for the nation, in a statement. Khelsilem said the decision rewards the Texas-based company and transfers the risk to Canadian taxpayers. The Squamish remain opposed to the project, he said.

North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson defended the government’s decision to buy the pipeline project. “We’ve been very clear that this project is in the national interest,” he said, adding it was approved 18 months ago after “long and extensive consultations.” Ottawa was forced to act because of “politically induced uncertainty created by the province (of B.C.)” after the project was already approved which has “potentially devastating impacts on investor confidence in Canada,” he said.

Wilkinson said the government had to act to ensure summer construction on the pipeline would go ahead. He added the government does not intend to own the project long term – it plans to sell it back to the private sector.

Wilkinson added it is not unusual for utilities and major infrastructure projects to be publicly owned, as many natural gas lines and power projects have been across the country. The MP acknowledged the court cases launched by the First Nations remain an “outstanding issue” for the project, but added the federal government feels it has met constitutional requirements for consultation.

Wilkinson said among his constituents, people have strongly held views on both sides of the debate, but “on balance, the majority of folks in the riding would like us to get on with seeing this project moves ahead.”

In a conference call with reporters, B.C. Premier John Horgan said Ottawa can’t blame B.C. for its decision to buy the pipeline, and the federal finance minister will have to answer to taxpayers “about how he’s disposing of their hard-fought tax dollars.”

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