Written by Gordon Hoekstra
Prince George Citizen staff
Friday, 29 May 2009
Enbridge is footing the bill for a northern advocacy group to generate community support for its proposed $4.5-billion project. The recently-formed Northern Gateway Alliance which is advocating support for Enbridge’s $4.5 billion pipeline through northern B.C. is the brainchild of Enbridge and is being bankrolled by the company, The Citizen has learned.
The Alliance was rolled out earlier this month during the North Central Municipal Association’s annual convention as a community coalition in support of the Enbridge project. It has also been billed as a “grassroots” group designed to create a voice for the North. Community leaders who have signed on include Prince George mayor Dan Rogers, Mackenzie mayor Stephanie Killam and Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan.
The recent announcement made no mention of Calgary-based Enbridge’s involvement.
But it is not the communities that are paying the bills, setting up the website or organizing the group’s activities. It is Enbridge.
In fact, the chair of the Northern Gateway Alliance, former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley, is on Enbridge’s payroll.
Neither Enbridge nor Kinsley deny that Enbridge is bankrolling the Alliance, and that the community group was the company’s idea.
“It’s what Enbridge engaged me to do,” says Kinsley.
But the North American pipeline giant denies they are engaging in “astroturfing”—a term that describes companies that fund or create seemingly grassroots organizations to give their cause legitimacy.
Enbridge spokesperson Steve Greenaway said that characterization is unfair. “I’m not willing to accept that we are somehow trying to do this from the top down. We have gone to community after community after community to explain the details of our project and we will continue to do that,” he said.
Asked if the company was being dishonest in spearheading the creation of a so-called grassroots organization, Greenaway said no.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say that we’re putting words in anyone’s mouth. Those people are coming forward voluntarily and allowing, you know, allowing, quotes to be placed on our website,” said Greenaway. (The quotes from mayors like Rogers and Killam are posted on the Alliance website).
“I think it’s important that all voices are heard in this debate, and I think in terms of, you know, support we have provided through compensating a chair who is going to assemble a board of community leaders across the pipeline, to characterize compensating him for part-time work, as somehow, is anything untoward about that, is unfair,” said Greenaway.
He would not say how much Enbridge is spending on the creation and support of the Alliance, but did acknowledge that Kinsley was being paid by the company, which was also offering administrative support to the Alliance effort.
Kinsley acknowledges it could be argued the Alliance is not a grassroots organization if Enbridge has hired him to create it, but said that somebody has to lead it. “It’s a great deal of work, and an immense amount of travel.”
Kinsley also argues that the intent of the Alliance is to support the pipeline project proceeding to the regulatory review where questions can be asked by northerners. (Only once has the National Energy Board, one of the project’s reviewing agencies, rejected a major project, the Sumas 2 energy plant near the B.C.-Washington border).
“We want to make sure this thing isn’t stopped in its tracks,” says Kinsley.
But the former mayor’s enthusiasm for the project is hard to hide.
He defends the merits of the project by rolling out stock Enbridge arguments, pointing to a focused economic regional impact, lauding a trust Enbridge plans to create for community projects, maintaining there is no oil tanker moratorium on the coast off Kitimat and calling the federal government review process robust. “It’s probably the most sophisticated approach to a major project such as this, that’s ever been undertaken,” he says.
Kinsley makes a similar pitch on the Alliance’s website.
“This will be an outstanding project and it will have economic benefits that are untold for northern B.C. and Alberta, for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities,” he says in a short video on the site.
Kinsley plans to take this message to Rotary Clubs, chambers of commerce, town councils and regional districts, as well as construction and contractor associations. Also in the works is an educational package targeted at school children.
He’s also encouraging supporters to sign up on the Alliance’s website.
So far, under 200 supporters have signed up.
Even a casual inspection of the Alliance and the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline’s websites show startling similarities.
The design of both websites is similar, including the type faces, the muted green colour scheme and the positive messages on the project. Identical messages cycling on both sites proclaim: Enbridge is a Canadian company that has been safely building, operating and maintaining pipelines for 55 years;
Thousands of direct and indirect jobs will be created to support the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway pipeline, benefiting workers in northern B.C. and Alberta.
There are about 20 messages.
The logos on both sites are also very similar with an identical stylized green leaf.
There’s also a direct link from the Alliance website to the Northern Gateway Pipeline website.
There’s little doubt that Enbridge’s effort to create the alliance is aimed directly at environmental groups who do not support the project.
Kinsley argues that environmental groups are not local groups and are funded by U.S. foundations. Greenaway offers a similar argument.
An environmental group that is based in the North, the Terrace-based North West Watch, is dismayed by Enbridge’s recent tactics in creating the alliance.
North West Watch representative Julia Hill noted she just recently learned of the term “astroturfing” to describe this type of activity. According to SourceWatch, a project of the Madison, Wisc.-based Center for Media and Democracy, “astroturfing” refers to apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms.
Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a longtime Washington and Wall Street insider, is credited with coining the term.
There are numerous examples of the practice in the U.S. including its use to block health-care reform and to oppose restrictions on smoking in public places.
Closer to home, the B.C. Forestry Alliance was created as a citizens’ group in the early ‘90s to improve the image of the forest sector, where it faced criticism from environmental groups on logging in the southwest of B.C. The group was funded by the forest industry whose members also sat on its board.
North West Watch recently applauded Terrace mayor Dave Pernarowski for pulling out of the Northern Gateway Alliance. Pernarowski had objected to the wording on the alliance’s site that indicated unqualified support for the pipeline project.
North West Watch and Friends of Wild Salmon are calling for an independent public inquiry into the pipeline project similar to one held in the late ‘70s.
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council chief David Luggi is not surprised by Enbridge’s tactics. “I think Enbridge is using (Kinsley) as a pivotal PR point,” observed Luggi. “It’s a PR (public relations) machine firing up on all cylinders.”
The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council has been calling for a separate government-funded, First Nations-led review process to assess major projects in their traditional territory.
In 2006, First Nations, which included the tribal council, had requested $2.4 million from the federal government to spearhead their own review of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline. Later that year, the tribal council filed a federal court challenge of the federal government’s decision to send Enbridge’s proposed pipeline to a review panel. The tribal council wanted the court to overturn the creation of the panel because they said they were not consulted.
Rogers, the Prince George mayor, who has signed up with the alliance, says he is under no illusion that the group is a creation of Enbridge.
“I think that everyone understands that is participating is that it’s being driven by Enbridge. No surprises there,” says Rogers. “It’s PR strategy.”
Nevertheless, Rogers is comfortable being associated with the alliance, saying Enbridge is looking at signing up those that believe there may be benefits because there will be those that are adamantly opposed.
Rogers says he is supportive of the project moving to the review stage.
“I’m not afraid as the mayor of B.C.‘s northern capitol to reiterate, as the largest centre in the northern region, there are some economic benefits that could flow to our community,” he said. “We want a stake in those discussions and to participate in those discussions as it unfolds.”
Rogers said the city has not put any money into the alliance.
- The 1,170-kilometre pipeline is proposed to carry oil from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat where it will be exported to regions like Asia and California. A twin pipeline will carry condensate, an oil thinner, back to the Alberta. The thrust behind the project is to create an offshore export outlet for oil produced from the Alberta tar sands which normally flow south to the interior of the United States.
- The project was shelved in late 2006, but was put back on the front burner in 2008 this year when Enbridge secured $100 million from western oil producers and key Asian refiners to get the project through a joint regulatory process with the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
- The environmental assessment process could take two years or more to complete.
- Key issues in the complex project—described as the largest crude- oil pipeline expansion in North America—include mountainous terrain, hundreds of river crossings and a tanker terminal at Kitimat.
- Thousands of workers will be needed during the two-and-a-half years of construction, but relatively few when complete. Probably about 50 workers in Kitimat and a handful of workers along the route in a few communities.