Enbridge on a mission of education ahead of plebiscite voting day

Enbridge Northern Gateway shares how they are approaching Kitimat's plebiscite question.

(An article focusing on Douglas Channel Watch’s campaign effort can be viewed here.)

Inside Enbridge Northern Gateway’s office in the City Centre Mall are a team of four people; three full-time staff, plus a fourth taken on to give an extra bit of strength to their manpower heading into the April 12 plebiscite vote.

As the date of voting approaches the company keeps adding to their message about the project, about its jobs, and about its safety.

Donny Van Dyk, Northern Gateway’s manager of coastal and aboriginal and community relations, says the community’s plebiscite on the JRP conditions has been a great opportunity for the company to raise the profile of their project.

Since the plebiscite has been announced he said there’s been dozens of requests for information from the company, showing that people are really thinking about the pipeline and wanting to know more.

“We went straight to some of the residents that we know here locally in Kitimat and asked what they expected of Northern Gateway and what they told us was that we needed to be active in providing information, sharing information, be that presenting to council, be that having open houses, coffee chats, as well as getting out to Rotary events. In addition they wanted us to get out and share information via the door step, via the phone calls and that kind of thing.”

And that they have. With their core group of four, plus company staff and executives who have come to town – among the most notable is Northern Gateway President John Carruthers – they’ve done door-to-door visits, open houses and other outreach.

Whether a home is a supporter or not, he said their presence is typically welcome.

“It’s a mixed reaction, but I’d say we’re getting positive feedback quite frequently, and there’s a genuine appreciation whether they’re opponents or supporters that we’re there to listen to concerns and provide information on our project. We’ve had opponents of the project who have literally thanked us for coming out and taking time to answer their questions.

“The feedback has been very positive for the engagement effort,” added Van Dyk.

Among those who have put themselves out in the public eye in support of the company is Kitimat resident Trish Parsons.

Parsons may be recognized from recent full page advertisements in the Sentinel, and from radio commercials, supporting the project, and directing people to Enbridge’s own campaign website.

“This is the opportunity we’ve been provided so lets utilize the opportunity that we have for people to have a say, have a comment,” she said.

Having opinion gauged in a vote helps people say their honest opinion while keeping it private if they want, she said.

“It doesn’t matter if you are against the project and you’re vocal about it or you support the project and you’re vocal about it, you’re an easy target,” she said.

For Parsons it was important to be a publicly visible supporter of the project.

“Sometimes that’s what people need, ‘okay, it’s not so bad to say you support something.’ People have given me a hard time about it too…there’s a lot more pressure for when people do stand up to say they do support something. It’s much easier to try to knock them down for supporting something.

“I don’t mind that my name is attached to it…we have to look at things in a whole picture. It’s unfortunate that so much of the focus is just on the pipeline when part of the conversation should be we need to transport oil, we need to generate revenue to support social programs.”

Parsons has never seen the project as a simple ‘cut and dry’ matter.

“It’s really easy for us, for individuals to become narrow minded on oil spills,” she said. “Oil spills and causes damage, yes, but there’s other things that can be done,” she said, saying that the community and the province has an opportunity to work together to mitigate future challenges and address the new technologies that have made pipeline construction safer.

As for how the vote will go, Parsons thinks the only surprise may be the turnout, or lack of turnout.

“I don’t know that enough people would go out to cast a vote. Either way that it goes, it would have to be taken with a grain of salt,” she said if the turnout is low.

But Enbridge themselves have no plans to slow down even if the vote leans to no.

“We’ve been in Kitimat for a long time. We’ve had a community office here for a long time, we’ve been running community advisory boards — we just had our 19th community advisory board meeting. We’ve had dozens of open houses…this is really just an extension of that ongoing engagement. We’ve provided information via various means for a considerable period of time now about our project,” said Van Dyk. “I think regardless of which way the vote goes, we’re still committed to working with the District of Kitimat, with community members. The outcome of the plebiscite probably doesn’t change the way Northern Gateway behaves. We’re still committed to being here and an active part of Kitimat.”

The company says that they will disclose their spending on their “Yes” campaign once the plebiscite has concluded.