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public relations

Greenpeace activists hang a large banner off the Lions Gate bridge in Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, May 29, 2012. The banner is to protest the tar sands and the expansion of the oil pipelines.Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

The battle for the hearts and minds of British Columbians over a proposed oil pipeline has ramped up after Enbridge Inc. launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign – and Greenpeace Canada responded by unfurling a giant, eye-catching banner on Lions Gate Bridge.

The tactics revealed on Tuesday by the opposing sides in the debate are dramatically different.

Enbridge is going with a finely crafted print and television campaign created by Kbs+p Canada, with media relations directed by Hill and Knowlton, a leading communications company that claims to have "invented the concept of public relations."

On the other hand, Greenpeace and others opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal to link Alberta's oil sands to a West Coast tanker port are going with low-budget drama, petitions and social networking.

At the same moment Paul Stanway, an Enbridge spokesman, was unveiling the advertising package in an office tower on the edge of Stanley Park, environmental activists were rappelling down the girders of the bridge on the other side of the park, just a few city blocks away.

The banner flapped in the wind briefly before the Greenpeace climbers, who had been unable to secure the lower edge, pulled it in.

Mr. Stanway said with a smile that he hadn't had a chance to see the "no tar sands pipelines" banner, but it was clear his company is hoping the ads will have a more lasting impact.

"We need social licence to build this pipeline," he said in explaining the need for the advertising campaign. "We need public support …This is something we're more and more focusing on."

The advertising campaign promises job creation, environmental protection and economic stimulus, linking it all together with a catchy tag line: "It's more than a pipeline. It's a path to our future."

Mr. Stanway said Enbridge is spending "less than $5-million" on the ads, which will run in newspapers and on television over the summer starting on Wednesday, and which may later expand to radio.

He said company polls show "support for the project is around 50 per cent," but this support is stronger in the north, along the pipeline route, than it is in the heavily urban Lower Mainland.

Until now, Enbridge has directed its public-relations efforts to the many small communities along the route, but the ad campaign is aimed at a broader audience.

"It's become quite apparent the debate has become a province-wide issue," Mr. Stanway said.

The project is under federal environmental review, with a decision not expected for another 18 months, but Mr. Stanway said Enbridge hopes to win over a majority of the public in the meantime.

Opponents don't think that's going to happen.

"You can't buy social licence," said Jolan Bailey, an outreach co-ordinator for Forest Ethics Advocacy.

Josh Paterson, staff counsel for West Coast Environmental Law, said 130 first nations oppose the project and ads won't sway them.

"They can wrap every bus in every city, they can take a monopoly on all the billboards [but]it's not going to make a lick of difference," he said.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said the banner unfurling was timed to coincide with the Enbridge announcement in a bid to blunt the ad campaign by reminding the public how strong the opposition is.

She said although the banner hung from Lions Gate for only a few hours, it drew media attention and expressed a message "that is a lot more in line with what British Columbians think."

Ms. Laboucan-Massimo said the banner is just the start of an effort aimed at "mounting the pressure" against the pipeline.

In a related effort, LUSH Cosmetics announced on Tuesday that it is working with the NGO Dogwood Initiative to urge customers to sign anti-pipeline petitions in its 44 shops, online or by phone texting, "NOTankers."