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Enbridge loses its home-grown messenger

Will the progress Janet Holder made leave along with her?

Tim Querengesser is senior editor with Alberta Venture. Email Tim

Nov 18, 2014

by Tim Querengesser

Janet Holder was the home-grown, human face Enbridge needed to win over B.C. And B.C. is the province Calgary-based Enbridge needs to win if it wants to build the $5.5 billion Northern Gateway Pipeline. As Enbridge says of Holder on its ‘Gateway Facts’ website, her main job was to get approval for the project “not just from officials … but from her fellow citizens of British Columbia.” To varying degrees, it was Holder who was responsible for the few but critical successes that Enbridge has achieved in that province. So with Holder this week announcing her retirement at the end of the year as executive vice-president of Northern Gateway, to “take a step back and focus on my family and my personal health,” the question now is whether the wins will remain in Enbridge’s pocket or if they will exit along with Holder?

A few critical wins

Holder, a former competitive weight lifter who grew up in B.C., returned to the province and became the public face there for the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, in 2011. It was a public face that was badly needed. Enbridge is an Alberta company and has a track-record built in Alberta. As Holder told Business Vancouver in 2012, “Enbridge doesn’t exist in British Columbia, so we don’t have any of that built-in goodwill. We’re having to build that in British Columbia.”

Mounting losses

Clearly, Enbridge knows losing Holder means potentially losing access to that human side of the project – that oh-so-critical goodwill. In a release announcing Holder’s retirement, Enbridge president and CEO Al Monaco notes positive relations with many communities in B.C. are in large part Holder’s work. “She built trust with communities by listening to their concerns and demonstrating Northern Gateway’s commitment to building a safe project that protects the environment,” Monaco said in the release.

Holder’s exit is just the tip of the iceberg of mounting losses for Enbridge’s proposed pipeline. In September, the Federal Court of Appeal granted leave to the Gitxaala Nation, allowing it to apply for a judicial review of the Joint Review Panel’s approval of Northern Gateway.  That comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s Tsilhq’otin decision, which redefined the legal definitions of aboriginal land title in the absence of formal treaties – as holds true for much of B.C. – and the need for consent for resource projects. And in April, Kitimat, where the pipeline is proposed to meet the Pacific Ocean and fill tankers bound for Asia, voted 60 per cent against the project in a non-binding plebiscite.

Who will Enbridge find in B.C. to replace Holder? Or will the company begin to resign itself to the overwhelming opposition in B.C. to the project?

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