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Janet Holder (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Janet Holder (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Enbridge's Janet Holder: Pushing west, with muscle Add to ...

There is little doubt that Ms. Holder does not fit the mould of a typical oil suit. While her competitive weight-lifting days might be over, she remains a fitness buff; she’s a regular downhill skier and travels the world to scuba dive. She has also bred and showed dogs.

One of her all-time favourite Christmas gifts – from her husband, eight years ago – is a chainsaw and a splitting maul. She says she intends to hammer together her own fences on the acreage that the couple, who have no children, own near a lake just outside of Prince George. They had already bought that property a half-decade ago, and considered retiring there, before this promotion brought her home.

The questions she now faces: Will her comfort in living in Prince George pay professional dividends? Will having an executive stationed at the mid-point of the Gateway route prove persuasive to the dozens of first nations that have staunchly opposed the project? Will Enbridge’s promise of Little League sponsorship and local benefits change minds among those convinced that the pipeline will leak into their rivers and poison their way of life?

Ms. Holder acknowledges that Enbridge has made missteps along the way. “I wouldn’t call them mistakes,” she says, though she allows that the company has underestimated the value of communications. In its focus on what she calls the “ ‘big picture’ value equation” to industry and the Canadian people, Enbridge has struggled to enunciate what it means on a local level: “What does it really mean for Kitimat? For Terrace? For Burns Lake?”

By being in Prince George, in a place where people can come to her rather than just have her fly in when she chooses, she hopes to be able to address some of those concerns.

“It’s not until people believe that you really are going to be part of their community that they’ll even start listening to you,” she says. “You have to show value. You can’t just walk in and say, ‘Here we are. We’re great. Trust us.’ ”

Ms. Holder left Toronto for Prince George on Friday, but has already met with some municipalities and first nations. She has flown the pipeline’s 1,177-kilometre route, from east of Edmonton to tidewater at Kitimat, B.C. She hints that things aren’t as bad as they may seem.

“We’re making progress. And there’s a lot more ‘yeses’ out there than people would be led to believe,” she says, suggesting more first nations supporters will emerge.

But the list of Gateway doubters is formidable and growing longer. Former Indian Affairs minister Jim Prentice has suggested that first nations legal issues could stymie the development, while this week a senior executive at rival TransCanada Corp. predicted Gateway will face a rougher ride than its Keystone XL pipeline. Other observers have also made unflattering comparisons with the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline – a project that, four decades on, appears to be shelved.

But Ms. Holder is optimistic. She does not take it for granted, for example, that work crews might be met with blockades. “We’re trying to do this without any opposition, once we get the approval.”

There is little doubt that she is energized by the project – enough so that part of her hopes she will be around to see it not only win regulatory approval, but also deliver its first barrel. A chemical engineer by training, Ms. Holder thinks there is something appealing about overseeing a massive construction project such as Gateway: “The techie in me wants to build it, too.”

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CURRICULUM VITAE

- Born in Prince George, B.C.; maternal grandparents were pioneers to Northern B.C. nearly a century ago, and ran a sawmill.

- Married, no children. In the process of moving to Prince George, B.C.

- Graduate of University of New Brunswick, with degree in chemical engineering.

- Master’s degree in business from McMaster University, Hamilton.

Career

- Started at Union Gas in Chatham, Ont., working in operating standards, rate design, gas supply, and sales.

- Joined Enbridge Inc., moving up the ranks to become president of gas distribution. Held a series of vice-president roles in gas supply services, marketing, operations, market services and support services.

- Now executive vice-president, western access.

Community

Director, Hydro One Inc., Saint Elizabeth Health Care, Saint Elizabeth Health Care Foundation (Chair), University of New Brunswick Campaign Chair, 2011 United Way Toronto.

Management style

Quick decision-maker. Counsels subordinates that if she’s off-base, to tell her immediately, because she makes up her mind quickly. A consensus-builder, particularly after a fight with cancer made clear the importance of delegating over micro-managing.

Personal

Outdoors and animal aficionado. While in Chatham, bred golden retrievers. At one point, while living in Chatham, she had 10 dogs, nine puppies, two horses, a goat and four cats. Today, she’s down to three dogs.

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