By Resource Works
“We want to be part of the oil and gas industry”
Ottawa has promised a loan program for Indigenous communities to buy equity stakes in natural resource projects, but many questions are still unanswered.
Ottawa is currently under scrutiny as it prepares to incorporate an Indigenous loan-guarantee program into its 2024-2025 budget, aimed at assisting Indigenous communities in acquiring equity stakes in natural resource projects. This commitment was made in Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s fall economic statement on November 21.
The government will advance development of an Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program to help facilitate Indigenous equity ownership in major projects in the natural resource sector. Next steps will be announced in Budget 2024.
The federal budget is typically presented to Parliament in either February or March, with the 2023-2024 budget having been announced on March 28 last year. While Ottawa has engaged in consultations with Indigenous leaders and organizations, there remains a notable lack of specific details, including a critical issue – whether the program will permit investment in oil and gas projects.
The First Nations Major Projects Coalition, boasting over 145 members, strongly advocates for Indigenous peoples to have the autonomy to determine their investment choices without constraints imposed by Ottawa. Although the government did assert its commitment to ensuring Indigenous communities benefit from major projects within their territories on their own terms, First Nations groups worry that the loan-guarantee program might mirror the green restrictions of the current Indigenous loan program provided by the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
This existing program allows equity stakes only in infrastructure projects aligned with the bank’s investments, such as clean power, green infrastructure, broadband technology, and transportation. For some time, the First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC) and the Indigenous Resource Network have been at the forefront of campaigns urging federal loan guarantees to facilitate Indigenous participation in natural resource projects.
Sharleen Gale, Chair of FNMPC, argues that fossil fuel investments must be a component of any federal loan-guarantee program, as equity in the oil and gas industry can empower First Nations to thrive in alignment with their values.
“We want to be part of the oil and gas industry,” says Gale.
In 2022, the Indigenous Resource Network (IRN) initiated the “Ownership Changes Everything” campaign, advocating for Indigenous ownership in resource projects. This campaign calls upon Ottawa to implement a loan program modeled after similar initiatives in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. Robert Merasty, highlights the challenges faced by Indigenous communities due to the Indian Act, which prohibits First Nations from using their land and assets as collateral. Consequently, they lack the necessary at-risk capital to secure favorable interest rates.
“The problems our communities are facing is that there are few mechanisms to access the necessary capital for investing in projects and having equity,” says Merasty.
In 2023, FNMPC penned an open letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, emphasizing the significance of advancing major resource projects for a successful energy transition and economic growth benefiting all Canadians. They also pointed out that the Indian Act remains a significant hurdle, preventing First Nations from leveraging their assets and land for borrowing.
FNMPC estimates that over the next decade, 470 major projects impacting Indigenous lands will require more than $525 billion in capital investment, with approximately $50 billion needed for Indigenous equity financing. An illustrative case from Alberta involved energy giant Enbridge, which partnered with 23 First Nation and Métis communities to sell an 11.57% interest in seven pipelines in northern Alberta. This partnership was made possible through a loan guarantee from the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corp., which provides financing to Indigenous communities seeking commercial collaborations, alongside various other financial supports.
Greg Ebel, CEO of Enbridge, has joined the campaign for a national program.
“Investment in the entire energy sector and many others could be accelerated by the immediate implementation of a federal Indigenous loan-guarantee program to ensure Canada’s Indigenous Peoples have a seat at the table while also having equity that helps them secure a more prosperous future,” says Ebel.
As we await further developments, the question remains: Will a federal loan-guarantee program come to fruition, one that encompasses loan guarantees for investments in natural gas and oil? We are hopeful for a positive outcome.