His time on the ice yielded four Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and a reputation as a champion. Now Scott Niedermayer is hoping his winning ways will carry over into a different arena – environmental activism.
Mr. Niedermayer, who retired from the National Hockey League in June, 2010, after 18 seasons, has joined forces with the World Wildlife Fund and Coastal First Nations to oppose Enbridge Inc.'s proposed Northern Gateway project.
The $5.5-billion project, which is in community hearings, involves the construction of two 1,170-kilometre pipelines from Alberta to Kitimat. Enbridge has said the project would create thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in economic benefits. Opponents question those claims.
Mr. Niedermayer, who was raised in Cranbrook, announced his opposition to Northern Gateway during a news conference at a downtown Vancouver hotel on Tuesday to kick off a campaign called "Canadians for the Great Bear." He said the pipeline would endanger the environmentally sensitive Great Bear region, a rain forest along the northern coast of B.C.
When asked how he ended up as an activist, Mr. Niedermayer said retirement brought the opportunity to explore different things.
"Having grown up in the Kootenays, I grew up being outside, hiking, fishing, skiing in the winter, really enjoying this amazing province, this amazing country that we have," he said. "As I travelled around the world seeing different places, I always came back in the summer and just realized what an amazing, special place this is. Because I enjoy being out there, because I realize these places aren't everywhere in the world, I just feel it's important that we do our best to protect them."
Mr. Niedermayer was joined at the event by, among others, former Vancouver city councillor Peter Ladner; Robyn Allan, former chief executive officer of the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia; and Grand Chief Edward John of the Tl'azt'en Nation. As members of the campaign, they'll speak at different forums about their concerns over the pipeline project.
Mr. Niedermayer, a smooth-skating defenceman revered by hockey fans throughout the country, isn't worried about turning anyone off by expressing concern that Northern Gateway could lead to spills from the pipeline or oil tankers. The fate of the proposed project has become highly political.
"I didn't [have any second thoughts]" he said. "I was up with a WWF trip last fall just to see the [Great Bear]area and experience it firsthand. Pretty hard to leave that without believing strongly that that area should be protected for future generations."
When asked what he brings to the campaign, Mr. Niedermayer said not much more than one man's opinion – he said he's by no means an expert. "Just a passionate, proud Canadian who feels these areas are important. Obviously, some visibility as a hockey player. I suppose that helps out as well."
This isn't the first time Mr. Niedermayer has spoken against a project for environmental reasons. He also opposed the Jumbo Glacier Resort, which the B.C. government approved in March. The $900-million project will build a 104-hectare resort about 55 kilometres west of Invermere.
Mr. Niedermayer was asked if he expected to discuss the Northern Gateway project at some point with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who's a noted hockey enthusiast. He said he hadn't thought about it.
Grand Chief John jumped in shortly after and said that, as a result of the news conference, "I think the Prime Minister just deleted the Scott Niedermayer chapter from his hockey book."
Todd Nogier, an Enbridge spokesman, said the company respects concerns about the pipeline project, whether they're from Mr. Niedermayer or anyone else. He said Enbridge is also well aware of the importance of the Great Bear region and plans a comprehensive marine safety program.
Some of the measures, he said, would include using double-hull oil tankers and having them vetted by a third-party agency. He said a radar and navigational system would also be implemented.
"These marine safety measures would make that area of the world safer for all traffic, regardless of whether it's connected to this project," he said.