A Crown corporation has tapped a seldom-used federal fund and struck a deal with two of Canada's biggest banks, after being instructed by the federal government to help arrange its multi-billion-dollar purchase and expansion of an oil pipeline system.
Export Development Canada (EDC) is providing a loan guarantee of at least $1 billion and has an agreement with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Toronto-Dominion Bank to help finance Canada's $4.5 billion purchase of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain oil pipeline and tanker expansion project.
The transaction is part of the “Canada Account,” a fund EDC administers for transactions the federal government deems to be in the “national interest," and one that has been used only 25 times since 2001.
The account has been used in the past to put up billions of dollars during the 2006 softwood lumber crisis, to support Chrysler and General Motors during the 2009 auto bailout, and at various times to help Bombardier, among other transactions.
The government directed the Crown corporation on June 1 "to perform any activity" to help further the expansion project. The directive ordering EDC to do so was tabled in Parliament on June 20, the agency's external communications senior advisor Jessica Draker confirmed in an email.
Canada Account used in exceptional cases
EDC considers itself to operate at “arm's length” from the government. It would not normally take on such a transaction, it says, due to a "combination of risks" including market and borrower risks, and financing conditions. But the agency said the government determined this was an appropriate situation.
“Given the exceptionality of this case, the Government of Canada made the decision to use Canada Account and directed EDC to provide financing support via a directive under the Financial Administration Act,” said Draker.
This legislation allows the government to direct Crown corporations like EDC, if it believes it is in the "public interest" to do so. Another piece of legislation governing EDC also says government can overrule its decisions if in the "national interest."
Finance Minister Bill Morneau and International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne, along with their boss Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, all describe the pipeline project in those terms.
Federal officials advised the agency weeks ago, Draker said, that they would likely be using the Canada Account to help finance the pipeline expansion project's summer construction season. The agency negotiates and administers transactions on the Canada Account, but the risks are assumed by the government.
Finance Canada has said EDC's loan guarantee is necessary to ensure the project's "timely completion." Champagne consulted EDC's board of directors about the move, according to the directive.
The decision was a poor use of taxpayer dollars, argued one environmental organization.
"There are so many better things that we could spend $11 billion of public funds on," said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, referring to one estimate of how much it could wind up costing the government to build the expansion project.
More clean water plants, solar panels, wind turbines, public transit and electric vehicle charging stations are some examples, he said.
"These would bring us closer to honouring our commitments on climate change and Indigenous reconciliation, but instead Trudeau has chosen to burn public money and political capital to double down on the fossil fuel economy."
Feds told EDC 'likely' to use Canada Account
The Crown corporation is known for providing insurance to exporters against losses, as well as trade expertise, and financing to Canadian firms for business development.
The notice says RBC and TD are the principal counter-parties, or the entities on the other side of the transaction, and that EDC is providing a loan guarantee for $1 billion or more, to support day-to-day needs and general corporate purposes.
After weeks of intense protests and political warfare over the pipeline's fate, triggered by Kinder Morgan's end-of-May ultimatum, the Trudeau government said May 29 it would be putting up $4.5 billion itself to buy the pipeline and its expansion project.
The next day, Kinder Morgan Canada terminated and repaid a $5.5-billion line of credit with RBC. The day after that, EDC confirmed to National Observer that the government had reached out to the agency to arrange the loan guarantee.
Draker said the government "engaged EDC in the weeks leading up to its announcement" in order to advise the agency that, "given the exceptional circumstances, it would likely pursue the use of Canada Account for the project and to discuss areas of financing support that would be required, beginning with the support for the summer 2018 construction season."