Despite being plagued by cost overruns and delays, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will still be commercially viable for whoever ultimately owns the project, according to its outgoing chief executive.

Ian Anderson, president and CEO of Trans Mountain Corp., said in an interview Wednesday that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will generate “consistent” returns for whoever owns the asset even though the company recently disclosed that the estimated total cost of building the project has ballooned to $21.4 billion, nearly double the previous estimate.

“It’s still viable, it’s still generating returns consistent with the kind of asset in our country, even at that cost — which speaks to the strength of our commercial underpinning from the very beginning,” said Anderson, who announced his retirement in February. “I have no concerns that this will be commercially viable, attractive to the future purchaser. It remains a very viable project, even at $21 billion.”

In February, Trans Mountain said that the pipeline expansion will be completed in the third quarter of 2023, later than the previous projected finish date of the end of this year. The company said the pandemic and last November’s flooding in B.C. further delayed completion of the pipeline, which runs from Strathcona County, Alta. to Burnaby, B.C., and should move about 890,000 barrels per day once finished.

Still, Anderson doesn’t expect that price tag to rise any further.

“Hopefully we’ve got enough contingency built in that we can accommodate that,” he said. “Global conditions have changed, supply chains conditions, labour shortages. I think we’ve got enough in that $21.6 billion to manage those uncertainties, but we didn’t predict what’s happening in the past two years. We can only control what we can control. But I think we’re in good shape.”

The future owner of the pipeline remains a big question mark as it is unlikely that the federal government will hold on to the asset over the long-term, opening the door for potential ownership by various Indigenous groups. The federal government bought the pipeline for $4.5 billion in 2018 from Kinder Morgan Canada Inc., which almost scrapped the project entirely due to opposition from various environmental groups and regulatory uncertainty.

In January, a new Indigenous non-profit organization disclosed interest in acquiring a stake in the pipeline, a move that Anderson said he supports but cautioned that a bidding war should be avoided.

“What has to happen now is you have 125 to 130 different communities that have been promised some measure of participation in this company. So, the framework of that needs to be figured out. What does that ownership structure look like, what does that partnership look like,” he said.

“I hope it doesn’t become a bidding war between different interests because that’s not creating the unity and the cooperative spirit that I envisioned. A framework that considers all interests in some form of ownership together with whoever owns the rest of it, whether that’s the federal government for some period of time, an initial public offering that takes part of it public [and] would be a very exciting thing to let Canadians have the opportunity to own, or there’ll be other interests I’m sure.”

Despite his planned retirement, Anderson said he will likely continue focusing his efforts on highlighting Indigenous reconciliation and Canada’s role in the global transition away from fossil fuels. He also plans to attend Trans Mountain’s eventual ribbon-cutting ceremony, even if he won’t be holding a pair of scissors.

“I’ll still be there. I’m going to visit even if I’m not invited,” he said. “I might not be cutting the ribbon but I’ll certainly be there.”