TransCanada quietly wooing First Nations leaders ahead of Energy East project
Posted by Zig Zag
Christopher Curtis, Montreal Gazette, July 30, 2015
TransCanada has quietly been meeting with First Nations leaders ahead of its Energy East pipeline project, signing 32 “capacity funding agreements” with aboriginal communities in the past two years.
Through these agreements, the energy firm donates money to a reserve and, in return, gets to pitch its $12 billion pipeline to community members.
TransCanada is heavily invested in these deals but insists none of its contributions to First Nations are meant to entice support for Energy East. However, Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon says that accepting said money comes with stipulations he isn’t prepared to honour.
Simon met with representatives from the firm last summer when they discussed the possibility of signing a capacity funding agreement. Since the 4,600 kilometre pipeline is slated to pass through Kanesatake, it’s vital for TransCanada not to encounter active resistance in the Mohawk territory.
“Basically, we met to identify how much the community would get, but I knew that once we signed that kind of an agreement it was basically a gag order,” Simon told the Montreal Gazette. “You could not speak of the processes you were in with Energy East.”
Representatives from TransCanada would not comment on Simon’s claim due to “reasons of confidentiality,” the company said in a statement emailed to the Gazette. However, one person who participated in separate capacity funding negotiations said that while the agreements come with certain confidentiality clauses, they do not prevent a First Nation from opposing the pipeline.
“You can loudly speak against (the pipeline) but you can’t talk about the specifics of your negotiations with the company,” said the source, who did not want his name published. “It’s certainly not like a bribe or anything like that but it does put you in a bit of an awkward position if you take money from TransCanada and then speak out against them.”
Pending approval by the National Energy Board, construction on Energy East is set to begin in 2020 and TransCanada says it simply wants to engage with aboriginal territories along the pipeline.
But TransCanada does not disclose the names of all of the First Nations it engages with. The assumption, according to the source, is that band councils may not want the public to know they’ve accepted money from a pipeline manufacturer.
TransCanada wrote Kanesatake a $15,000 cheque last year to open a community consultation process, according to Simon. The chief says he gave the money to a consultant but because of his own opposition to the Energy East project and widespread resistance throughout Kanesatake, he stopped meeting with the energy firm.
“They brought up incentives like one community got a brand new fire station, other communities have got youth centres built, they’re basically buying their way across the pipeline,” Simon said. “They know we’re broke, they know we’re starving for cash in our communities. They come in here, dangle that dollar, thought it was going to be a real sweet deal but they hit a wall when they came down this way.”
The company also donated $10,000 to the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne last year to develop a new walking trail in the forest on its territory. TransCanada signed a letter of agreement with Akwesasne in 2014 and it will help fund a traditional land use study of the Mohawk territory affected by the pipeline. In all, TransCanada will fund 43 similar studies on territories along the pipeline — which will link the Alberta oilsands to terminals in Quebec and New Brunswick.
In the latest deal between TransCanada and an aboriginal group, the company announced Wednesday it signed an engagement agreement with the Grand Council of Treaty 3 — which represents 24 First Nations in northern Ontario. Though terms of the contract are confidential, some details were leaked to the Gazette by a third party who obtained a stolen copy of the document.
The agreement would see TransCanada fund a $700,000 environmental assessment of the project and its effects on the Treaty 3 lands. There are confidentiality clauses in place but Treaty 3 First Nations are free to oppose the pipeline and reject future deals with TransCanada.
It’s difficult to track the specific dollar amounts and other terms agreed to in these contracts given that the National Energy Board doesn’t regulate or oversee this practice. But the exchange of donations for access to chiefs, council and community members is par for the course in the energy industry.
Before the NEB approved Enbrige’s Line 9B pipeline proposal, the community gave $1.15 million in grants to communities along the pipeline — including a number of First Nations. The money went mostly toward emergency intervention equipment.
For some First Nations leaders though, no amount of money or cooperation from TransCanada would be enough to sign a funding agreement. Nipissing grand chief Marianna Couchie says she worried about the ethical implications of accepting money from a pipeline company when she was approached by TransCanada last year.
“The optics of accepting their money are not great,” Couchie said in a telephone interview. “It would be wrong to take their money because we’re opposed to it. Our members are concerned about the impact the pipeline could have on our land, the animals, the water. This is a no-go situation for our community … For some small communities that are hurting financially, it could be tempting to take this money. But you have to ask yourself, ‘At what cost?’”
Defending her point, Couchie spoke of the Nexen pipeline rupture this month, which saw 31,500 barrels of bitumen ooze into a Northern Alberta bog. Reports suggest the leak may have gone unnoticed for two weeks.
For its part, TransCanada reaffirmed its commitment to “fostering strong, long-term relationships with Aboriginal communities.”
“This is, and will continue to be, an integral part of everything we do at TransCanada,” the company said in an email to the Gazette.
In its pursuit of having the Energy East project approved, TransCanada has held 1,700 meetings with 260 aboriginal communities since 2013. The company also spent $66.5 million on aboriginal businesses, goods and services for its construction projects in 2013 and funds various First Nations business and training initiatives.