By Al Monaco
I recently had the privilege of joining more than 120 people from across northern British Columbia and Alberta to talk about Northern Gateway.
The event was our fourth annual Community Advisory Board (CAB) conference in Prince George. And like all our CAB meetings, this was a true coming together of people who are engaged in our project, who bring their questions and concerns to the table and who are keen to talk about solutions.
It was great evening. Because while newspaper headlines focus on those who say “no” to Northern Gateway, the conversations that are happening in communities, and in our CABs, are focused on “how.” How can we ensure Northern Gateway is built safely? How can we make sure the environment is protected? How can northern communities benefit from the training, jobs and business opportunities the project will create?
This all began in 2009, when Northern Gateway formed five regional CABs to hear regularly from people in communities along our proposed route.
Participants comprise a wide array of voices, including environmentalists, business leaders, community and municipal government representatives and people from First Nations and Métis communities.
We brought together this diverse range of people – including those who don’t necessarily support the project – because we believe that is the best way for us to get the direct, unfiltered input we need to build a better project.
CAB members always set the agendas for these meetings, always identify the issues they want to tackle and run their own meetings with a neutral, independent facilitator. This format allows the discussion to deal head-on with issues that matter to communities, and it helps ensure we can all work collaboratively to avoid and mitigate any risks and to maximize the project’s economic benefits.
All five regional CABs meet quarterly, to ensure a regular flow of information. And each year, as just happened in Prince George, the five CABs come together to talk about shared issues and to hear first-hand the various concerns and priorities from each region.
The CABs are an important component of a much broader conversation that everyone on our Northern Gateway team is having each and every day. Our project leader, Janet Holder, has been touring British Columbia for 18 months, talking about the project with groups large and small.
From her office in Prince George, she leads a team of people focused on building relationships with people living along the right of way – including aboriginal communities – and on helping us to understand concerns and take action to respond.
There’s no question, CAB members have had a significant impact on this process.
The Joint Review Panel commended the CABS as “important multi-stakeholder venues that can facilitate continued dialogue, potentially over the project’s entire life.”
And in its report, the panel noted that these meetings have led to important changes, like additional isolation valves, 24-hour staffing at all pump stations and more frequent in-line inspections across the entire pipeline. That constructive spirit continued at our recent conference in Prince George. That event saw numerous conversations around how our team can further improve our engagement in communities, share information on safety and emergency response, and help local and aboriginal people and businesses train and equip themselves to be ready as and when we’re ready to begin construction. I can assure you the conversation we are having is helping us build a safer, better pipeline that ensures northern communities will get the most benefit from this project.
Al Monaco is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Enbridge.