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Preston Manning gives Enbridge advice on 'winning' a big oil campaign

Northern Gateway VP Janet Holder: "I'm not running for election."

Janet Holder and Preston Manning at GLOBE 2014 - Kim Bellavance Photography
Northern Gateway executive vice-president Janet Holder and Preston Manning at GLOBE 2014 in Vancouver Thursday. Kim Bellavance Photography.

Reform Party founder and conservative icon Preston Manning stepped into B.C. oil politics Thursday, when he appeared to give Enbridge’s vice-president Janet Holder advice on using the lessons of politics in building more support for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline.

Manning was seated next to Holder at a “GLOBE 2014” conference panel in Vancouver that addressed the challenges of transporting oil.  He told the panel, which included pipeline engineering and railway executives, that large companies need to communicate their projects as if they were trying to “win an election.”  

“Imagine that the project name is on a ballot,” said Manning.  “Imagine that the alternatives are on the ballot… and for any of those options to prevail in our current climate in which we live, it needs to win.”

He said to succeed with large energy projects, industrial campaigners need to create a "campaign team" that crafts simple, easy-to-understand messages that address people's fears.  

Holder acknowledged people's fears about her company's proposed pipeline range from coastal spills, to caribou impacts, to river crossings.  She said the very vocal feedback from the public has resulted in design changes to the pipeline, and plans to restore natural areas where caribou roam.

But Manning said campaigns have to start early -- "not months down the road after your position has been formulated, but... from the very moment of conception."

Lack of Consensus

Enbridge has been criticized for not building consensus early enough with B.C. Aboriginal communities, many of whom are still hostile to Northern Gateway, and are threatening law suits and "direct actions."

“Hundreds of people call me asking, ‘where do we go to stand in front of the bulldozers to stop Northern Gateway?’" said Art Sterritt, Executive Director at Coastal First Nations earlier this month.

Aboriginal protest of Northern Gateway pipeline Victoria - Zack Embree

B.C. First Nations leading a Victoria march against the Northern Gateway pipeline - photo by Zack Embree

Manning suggested he hopes the public will accept a legal conclusion to such projects.

"If we believe in the rule of law... there's one thing that applies to us all, proponents of a position, opponents of a position....when the decision is made...that we agree to accept the result.... even if it is not our preferred option."

The Harper cabinet is expected to rule on the Northern Gateway project in June.  The new finance minister, Joe Oliver, recently told a Vancouver crowd that pipelines will be opposed by people who are against fossil fuels "no matter what."

Manning -- whose father was an Alberta Premier who turned the wheel open on Canada's first major TransCanada oil pipeline in 1950 -- said pipelines have a long history of opposition.  

But just as in politics, he said, a project does not need everyone's support to move forward.

"Not necessarily a majority... but at least getting a plurality," said Manning.

He also said all campaigns these days -- be it for a political party or a single issue -- are 90 percent communication.  

Northern Gateway website Janet HolderOn that score, Enbridge's communications have changed noticeably in recent times.  Its revised website -- -- profiles not only the safety and economic benefits of the pipeline, but also attempts to humanize the project with information about the one executive most responsible for pushing the $6.5 billion pipeline forward.

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