Just come talk to us — and let us talk too.
This sentiment is behind Kandace Kerr’s resignation from the organizing committee for an upcoming business forum in October in Vanderhoof.
Kerr resigned last week, after learning Enbridge was going to be a speaker at the upcoming business forum put on by the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN).
The event is a chance for local and regional businesses to showcase what they do, provide networking opportunities, to discuss new ideas or talk about some of their successes.
Kerr had been invited to represent the Fort on the organizing committee, and had been in on some of the planning, but was surprised to learn only recently Enbridge was going to be presenting.
“All of a sudden, boom, there they were,” said Kerr.
So she sent her resignation in to Mayor Sandra Harwood and Tom Greenaway with the regional district.
In her resignation, Kerr outlines her opposition to the proposed pipeline as well as laying out why she disagrees with Enbridge’s presence on the list of speakers:
“I do not understand why a company like Enbridge is included in a forum that seems to focus on developing and supporting businesses that enhance and build local economies. It seems to me that the only reason Enbridge is included in this list of speakers is to promote, legitimize, and seek endorsement for their proposal, and I will not be a party to that. I do not believe that this project is supported by the majority of residents within the RDBN and, as a result, I will not support Enbridge’s involvement in the 2011 business forum.”
Harwood will be taking Kerr’s letter to the upcoming regional district meeting in Burns Lake, and while she has not taken a position on the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, Harwood said: “I applaud her standing up for her principles and I understand her position completely and while I regret the fact that we won’t have representation on that particular committee, I can’t fault her in the least.”
But it’s not just the fact Enbridge is presenting at the forum Kerr disagrees so strongly with, it is the nature of the speaking, calling Enbridge’s engagement with the area to date “strategic” in nature, and she does not like how the company is choosing a business forum, not an open community meeting where people will be able to ask questions from the community.
“One of my really huge concerns is that Enbridge just doesn’t really seem to care about the communities that they’re going to be driving the pipeline through, if they did, they’d be here talking to the people in these communities,” said Kerr.
While Enbridge did have a community meeting scheduled in Fort St. James and some other communities along the pipeline in February, they cancelled the open meeting and instead met with the mayor and council behind closed doors, and this is part of what concerns Kerr.
Enbridge has still not rescheduled the community meeting, but has asked to speak at an upcoming Fort St. James Chamber of Commerce meeting, and Kerr said she is concerned these are “manicured” presentations without an adequate opportunity for the local community to voice their concerns, yet Enbridge will put them forward as examples of “public consultation.”
“I’d really like to have Enbridge come here, come on down, have a look at the Stuart River, see where you’re going to cross, come down and look at where the swans swim down there, come down and watch the sun set on Stuart Lake, come and see what this community looks like and feels like — we’re a lot more than a dot on the map,” said Kerr.
Michele Perret, senior manager of community relations for Enbridge, said if the community wants a meeting, the company would like to provide one.
“We certainly will do whatever the community wants us to do,” said Perret. “We learn a lot from the questions that we get.”
Perret said questions brought forward in the past had already impacted the planning of the pipeline, leading to changes in the route.
“It’s definitely an important part of the project development,” said Perret.
She said the cancellation of the February meeting had to do with concerns the company had about not being able to have a meeting “that would allow for an open and good exchange of questions and answers.”
But now she will look at working to reschedule the meeting.
“You can talk to my husband about my travel schedule to know that we’re not trying to hide from the public at all,” said Perret. “And so that’s a concern that I’m going to have to take back to the team to see if we can make sure that we can do something for Kandace and the community there.”
And for her part, Kerr is not unrealistic about the impact of her resignation on the situation.
“I don’t hold out huge expectation that what I did is going to change the world in any great dramatic sense, but it might spur other people to take similar action and together, we can make Enbridge take notice,” said Kerr.
So her one hope that this notice could spur Enbridge on to reschedule the cancelled public meeting and meet with the community at large will hopefully come to fruition as well as her hope to encourage the board of directors of the regional district to take note.
“I also think its incumbant on district council and also on the regional district to have Enbridge come and speak to both bodies, on the record, in a public meeting,” said Kerr.
Perret did say the regional district has requested Enbridge come to the community, but the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako had not returned requests for an interview prior to press time.