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Business Person of the Year 2016: Enbridge’s Al Monaco

Al Monaco is at the centre of one of Canada’s most contentious issues. So let’s talk

Dec 1, 2016

by Michael Ganley

As I was wrapping up my interview with Al Monaco – it was an hour-long teleconference with him in Calgary and me in Edmonton – he turned the tables on me and asked my opinion. We’d been discussing pipelines, naturally, and how difficult it has become to get new ones in the ground or even to get old ones reversed. (The only time he’d shown the slightest irritation during our hour was when we talked about the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 through Ontario and Quebec in 2015, which he described as the simplest thing a pipeline company can do. “It took us three years,” he said, referring to the approval process, “when it should have taken six months.”)

In response, I suggested that energy companies were losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, and that despite a generally good track record of keeping oil and gas in the pipelines, a lot of people seem to think they’re always springing leaks. He acknowledged the disconnect, saying “the amount of product on the ground is miniscule.”

Trying to get back to the journalist’s role, I asked what industry might do about this and suggested it wasn’t doing a good job of communicating its record and its relevance. What did he think of that? He got slightly testy for the second time and said industry has been communicating hard for 20 years about its safety record and the benefits it brings to Canadians, both in terms of economic activity and the comfort of having a warm home. Then he said something I hadn’t expected and that put me in mind of the recent U.S. presidential race. “More facts aren’t going to help,” he said. “These are emotional issues and that’s how the industry has to approach it.”

A small part of a journalist dies every time someone says facts don’t matter, but maybe he’s right, at least in part. Enbridge brought emotion to the matter a couple of years ago with its Life Takes Energy marketing campaign, which has seen the company spend millions to highlight a baby’s first bath (with natural-gas heated warm water, of course), a car ride with a dog and a couple’s trip of a lifetime. Monaco had to be convinced by his lieutenants to launch the campaign three years ago, but he’s now glad he listened. “This is about building your brand,” he says. Then he adds, a little wistfully, “In our business, we never used to think we needed to do that.”

But I don’t get the sense Monaco will ever rely too heavily on marketing and PR spin. The man spends a lot of time on the road, in small towns and communities and on First Nations lands, telling people first-hand how Enbridge has performed in the past and how it’s going to perform in the case relevant to them. “You build that trust and confidence in what you’re doing,” he says. “That’s not sending out a fact sheet. Communication is being on the ground and establishing trust.”

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