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  (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)


(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)


Al Monaco: Putting the pipeline business on a new track Add to ...

He refuses to blame the firm for this, however. After all, blaming Enbridge would in some ways be blaming himself, since he has been there since 1995. Instead, he argues, the reason the company did less before, and the reason it’s now investing in safety research and ripping up and rebuilding hundreds of kilometres of old pipe, is because it’s responding to demands from a world suddenly aghast at the thought of oil spilling. “The game has changed. And we have to elevate our game accordingly,” he says.

And so change is under way. For one, Enbridge is beginning to move oil not through pipe, but on tracks. It is seriously looking at how rail can move barrels to eastern U.S. refiners. That could mean loading tanker cars in the Chicago area: “you have to remember these refineries need cheaper crude now, not five years, 10 years from now,” Mr. Monaco says.

It is also changing internally. Roughly 40 per cent of executive bonuses are now tied to safety and environment – up from about 25 per cent before. And Mr. Monaco is himself deliberately waving a safety banner, making a zero-spill push part of his investor mantra. “Sure, we’ve taken a hit from this reputationally,” he says. “But we’re going to get that back.”

It’s tempting to draw a line between Al Monaco’s humble roots and his lunch plate, an egg and tuna salad in a plastic container sporting a green $6.49 sticker. Mr. Monaco is a first-generation Canadian, with Italian parents who left a small family farm in Rivisondoli, a ski town in the geographic heart of the country, for Canada in the 1950s. Mr. Monaco was born in Calgary, where his father moved to work track maintenance for the railroads.

But the salad seems less a product of modest beginnings than a tireless schedule. Mr. Monaco starts at 6 a.m., and is in many Saturdays. Lunch isn’t usually on the menu; he cancels a restaurant reservation in favour of dining in a small conference board next to his 30th-storey downtown Calgary office. “I normally just kind of grab a sandwich or a salad or something,” he says. As for the long hours: “One of the things you need to do as a leader is demonstrate your leadership and capability and your work ethic,” he says. He is, after all, a son of immigrants. “As far as where I get the focus, I guess I’d probably have to say my parents, because they sure worked pretty hard.”

Employees at Enbridge say that Mr. Monaco has, at least in his early days, a more down-to-earth touch – that he is more willing to leave the office and come to the field than his predecessor. At the same time, Pat Daniel was the object of much respect in the markets – Mr. Monaco is a lesser-known face, although parts of career at Enbridge saw him interacting with investors.

Mr. Monaco attended University of Calgary and became a certified management accountant. As a kid he wanted to be a fighter pilot – searching for a link between that and pipeline executive, he offers: “I’d say it’s a battle” – but the real allure lay in money. “I’ve always kind of liked the capital markets,” he says. “And particularly, investment decisions. So how companies evaluate what’s good and not good and what’s good for shareholders.”

Which leads to an obvious question: Northern Gateway, in particular, is ripe with opportunities for things to go wrong. Even if it gains regulatory approval, it’s certain to be legally challenged and then, in all likelihood, confronted by protesters chaining themselves to equipment.

“So basically, what you’re asking is – why bother with the project?” he says. “Let’s look at it this way: what if we didn’t do the project? We’d be letting down our customers. We’d be letting down the provincial governments. We’d be letting down the federal government. I think we’d actually let down all Canadians.”

And he’d give critics a strong foothold: killing Gateway could hurt pipeline operators like Enbridge for years to come.

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