Pat Daniel, Enbridge Inc.'s soft-spoken but increasingly vocal chief executive office, wants Canada's role in the global energy market to become an election issue, publicly pressuring politicians to support his company's controversial oil sands pipeline - an unusual and risky tactic that highlights the growing resistance to the project.
Mr. Daniel, who met with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff about a month ago in Calgary, said in an interview Thursday that he also expects the Liberals to scrap their plan to ban oil tanker traffic off British Columbia's north coast, should they win the May 2 election. Although Mr. Daniel is confident that the Liberals will drop the idea of a tanker ban, he said Mr. Ignatieff did not tip his hand on his party's plans.
Enbridge and oil sands producers argue that Canada will not become an energy superpower unless it is able to access oil and gas markets beyond the United States. Enbridge's proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline would open up Asian markets. Mr. Daniel, in a speech in Toronto at the Empire Club on Thursday, urged his audience to tell politicians that Canada needs to become a more prominent world player.
"It will require strong leadership, strategic vision and focused effort over several years," Mr. Daniel said, according to the text of his speech.
Support for the proposed pipeline is strong in Asia, the world's fastest-growing energy consumption market. Chinese companies don't understand why a project that would likely increase the price of Canadian oil and jack up oil sands production is the source of debate and lengthy regulatory scrutiny. Sinopec Corp. paid $10-million for the right to purchase a stake in the pipeline, as well as reduced toll rates. Other Asian players have bought some of the 10 units Enbridge sold, Mr. Daniel said in an interview, declining to provide further details.
It is unusual for corporate executives to publicly call on politicians to support specific projects as they wind through the regulatory process, but Mr. Daniel started speaking out last year after realizing the intense criticism Northern Gateway is facing from first nations and environmental groups.
"Politicians … are really influenced by public opinion," he said, noting that a B.C. tanker ban would effectively usurp the regulatory process for Northern Gateway.
Mr. Daniel is not flustered by the Liberals' assertion that they would block oil tanker traffic through legislation. "I don't think the legislation [would]pass because I think it is fair to say that the Liberal Party will see the strategic importance of increasing trade with Southeast Asia," he said. "[That]has been a strong part of Liberal policy, so I don't see how they could support a tanker ban and at the same time say they want to support increased trade with Southeast Asia."
Tom Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said he is puzzled by Mr. Daniel's lobbying strategy during an election campaign. "Conventional lobbying strategy would be approach a party once it has won an election, when they have space to manoeuvre," Prof. Flanagan said.
"Mr. Ignatieff made a public pledge [against]tankers off the coast of British Columbia - that the Liberals wouldn't allow that. What's [Mr. Ignatieff]going to do in a campaign? Is he going to say: 'I was lying' or 'I changed my mind - the companies convinced me'? A campaign is a hard time for him to climb down from a position like that."