By Mina Kerr-Lazenby, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A coalition of First Nations groups are calling on Canada’s six largest banks to cease lending funds to the Trans Mountain expansion project (TMX).
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) have written letters to the CEOs of RBC, BMO, TD, Scotiabank, CIBC and National Bank, urging them to reconsider the $10 billion loan currently being negotiated for the pipeline.
The proposal for further funding comes after the cost of the controversial project mushroomed from $21 billion to $31 billion in March.
In a letter to RBC, included within a statement released April 19, the Nation said the bank’s involvement with the project is a violation of the rights and interests of Indigenous communities—one that contradicts their own public commitments to reconciliation and addressing climate change.
“You say climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our age and that RBC has an important role in supporting the most significant economic transition in centuries. You also commit to acting on reconciliation ‘in genuine and meaningful ways.’ But actions speak louder than words,” it reads.
“Your decision to further finance TMX will be a litmus test of the sincerity of your commitments, and your role in propping up the pipeline will mean that your bank will forever be linked to Canada’s greatest boondoggle.”
If granted, the funding would mark the second time Canadian banks have fronted large sums to finish the pipeline expansion. Financial support was given last year, when Trans Mountain announced the estimated cost of the project had grown to $21.4 billion, a four-fold increase in cost since the project was purchased by Canada in 2018 for $4.5 billion.
The letter said the Nation was “dismayed” to learn that last year’s initial $10 billion loan is earning the bank 1.85 per cent interest—below the prime rate at the time and below the interest rates that Canadians are currently facing.
“This means RBC chose to provide a preferential rate to the oil and gas sector, and forego potential earnings, contrary to your own shareholders’ interests.”
The letter noted the loan would expose the public to further potential losses, with Canadians likely to lose “tens of billions of dollars” on the pipeline and tanker project.
Among the signatories was the Nation’s Director Treaty Lands and Resources Gabriel George and the UBCIC Executive Grand Chief and President Stewart Phillip, and Vice-President Chief Don Tom.
“The banks are lying about their commitments to reconciliation and to helping the climate,” said Charlene Aleck, the Nation’s Sacred Trust Spokesperson.
“There isn’t even a good business case for their actions. The banks are losing money for their shareholders to prop up a costly, devastating and archaic oil pipeline project.”
Aleck said the project is a threat to the life and culture of the local Tsleil-Waututh community, affecting everything from the survival of the southern resident killer whales to the Nation’s ability to practise their traditions and culture in the Burrard Inlet.
President of the UBCIC, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, said the bank’s actions contradict the promises it has been making as a company.
“It is an absolute disgrace that RBC and Canadian banks are positioning themselves as fossil fuel lenders of last resort while painting an image of a corporation that cares about people and the planet,” he said.
“This is disgusting colonial era corporate greed in real time.”