There's a lot of talk in British Columbia these days about Enbridge Inc. and its challenges advancing its Northern Gateway pipeline project.
But Roger Harris offers something extra to the conversation. From 2008 to 2010, the one-term BC Liberal MLA for Skeena was working for Enbridge, mostly as a vice-president of aboriginal and community partnerships. He says he left, by mutual agreement, because he advocated a broader approach to engaging with communities and stakeholders than the company was interested in.
Now, the consultant to business, government and first nations says Gateway may be beyond saving – though he continues to believe in shipping Canadian energy to foreign markets.
Is it reaching the point where this project is going to be a non-starter?
If Enbridge continues to do probably a number of things, [this project] has the potential to meet the legal threshold and, with the current federal changes to the environmental assessment, the political threshold that would allow someone to say, 'You will get a permit to build this. It will have some conditions on it, but here it goes.'
But the ability to translate that permit into a project you can construct is another question altogether.
And you only have to see how first nations are talking today about the litigation and the levels of interference and activity they are going to bring to this project that if it does proceed, chances of actually building it are [not] going to be pretty significant to the point that most investors will probably just call it quits.
Having worked with Enbridge, you have a perspective that most of us don't. Given that, what do you think when you look at current events vis-à-vis Northern Gateway?
[Gateway] has captured so much of the headlines and gives the impression B.C. is not open for business; specifically, it gives the impression that first nations are not open for business. I look at the Northwest and the whole northern corridor and the number of [liquid natural gas) plants that are being proposed. It isn't that first nations are opposed to development or trying to attract investment to B.C., they're just opposed to this project.
You were a post-convention adviser to Christy Clark after she won the leadership of the BC Liberals. What kind of a political challenge do you think this Gateway issue has presented as she tries to build support for a bid for a fourth [BC Liberal] term next year?
Well, I am glad she has taken a more strong position now. Where she is today is where I would have liked to have seen her about the time the federal budget came down. But it's important for the province to lay down those principles and all of the people looking at those principles to see themselves fitting in.
Did you see anything inside Enbridge that explains how the company has approached this question?
Generally, they're an Alberta-based company. They probably didn't, early enough in their project life, retain enough B.C. expertise and listen to it. It is a significantly different way of doing business, not more expensive, just different. A lot of times people see that as more expensive when you're doing things differently, how you approach things, how we would engage aboriginals in involving them in a project here, providing procurement opportunities, instead of just the standard, 'Here's a job.' In B.C., most bands focus on long-term benefits. And the culture in Alberta didn't understand that to the degree they needed to.
What would you say to those who would say you're a former employee, who has the latitude –
In 2009, Enbridge offered me a contract to stay on in the project, and I chose to leave. I wasn't pushed out the door. I wasn't fired. I left the project. My comments more are about how to help. The lesson to be learned from Enbridge is Enbridge has spent $300-plus-million in a regulatory process that's probably going to get them a no. Even to get a yes, they will end up with a constructionable no. For me, talking about Enbridge has maybe helped give guidance for other people. I don't really think I have beat up Enbridge here today.