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Enbridge behind controversial grassroots group

By Jan Rose     Jun 10, 2009 in Business
Pipeline giant Enbridge of Calgary, Alberta, admits that is footing the bill for a northern advocacy group in British Columbia to generate community support for its proposed $4.5 billion pipeline project.
The recently formed Northern Gateway Alliance, was rolled out earlier this month during the North Central Municipal Association's annual convention as a community coalition in support of the Enbridge project through northern B.C.
Billed as a "grassroots" group designed to create a voice for the north, members of the group include Prince George mayor Dan Rogers, Mackenize mayor Stephanie Killam and Kitimat mayor Joanne Monaghan. Former Prince George mayor Colin Kinsley, on Enbridge's payroll, is chair of the alliance.
No mention was made of Calgary-based Enbridge's involvement. Communities are not paying the bills to set up websites or organizing the group's activities. The billing is to Enbridge.
Neither Enbridge nor Kinsley deny that Enbridge is bankrolling the Alliance, and that the community group was the company's idea.
It's what Enbridge engaged me to do, said Kinsley.
The company denies they are engaging in "astroturfing" -- a term that describes companies that fund or create seemingly grassroots organizations to give their cause legitimacy.
He's not willing to accept that Enbridge is trying to do this from the top down, said Enbridge spokesman Steve Greenaway.
Asked if the company was being dishonest in spearheading the creation of a so-called grassroots organization, Greenaway said no.
Greenaway said he thinks it's important that all voices are heard in the debate, and in terms of support Enbridge has provided through compensating a chair who is going to assemble a board of community leaders across the pipeline, to characterize compensating him for part-time work, as somehow, is anything untoward about that, is unfair.
He refused to say how much Enbridge is spending on the Alliance's support and creation of the Alliance. However, he did acknowledge that Kinsley was being paid by the company, which was also offering administrative support to the Alliance effort.
Kinsley also argues the Alliance's intent is to support the pipeline project proceeding to the regulatory review where questions can be asked by northerners.
"We want to make sure this thing isn't stopped in its tracks," said Kinsley.
He defends the project's merits by rolling out stock Enbridge arguments, such as a focused economic regional impact, praising a trust Enbridge plans to create for community projects, and asserting there is no oil tanker moratorium on the coast off Kitimat, B.C.
Kinsley calls the federal government's review process robust.
It's probably the most sophisticated approach to a major project such as this, that's ever been undertaken, he says.
A similar pitch is made on the Alliance's website.
"This will be an outstanding project and it will have economic benefits that are untold for northern B.C. and Alberta, for both aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities," Kinsley says in a short video on the site.
He plans to take this message to Rotary Clubs, chambers of commerce, town councils and regional districts, as well as construction and contractor associations. In the works is an educational package targeted at school children.
By all appearance it seems that Enbridge's effort to create the alliance is aimed directly at environmental groups who have reservations about the project.
Kinsley argues that environmental groups are not local groups and are funded by U.S. foundations. Greenaway offers a similar argument.
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