Enbridge faces AGM challenge

Date of publication: 
8 May 2012

Vancouver – Groups opposed to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, shown protesting outside Enbridge’s Vancouver offices last year

NEI Investments’ Ethical Funds has filed a motion to be voted on at Enbridge’s annual general meeting in Toronto Wednesday, asking the company to address the risks associated with first nations’ opposition to their proposed pipeline.

The $5-billion Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline project would transport oil from Alberta’s oilsands to Kitimat, where it would be loaded on tankers and shipped around the world. The legal, operational and reputational risks cited by Ethical Funds include a possible lengthy court battle, delays from protests or blockades and potential damage to Enbridge’s reputation, NEI Investments said in their proxy alert to shareholders.

“ ... [I]f the company cannot provide a compelling rationale that refutes the risks that we’ve identified, then the prudent course of action would be to put the project on hold,” said Jamie Bonham, manager, extractives, research and engagement at NEI Investments, the parent company of Ethical Funds.

Enbridge is encouraging shareholders to vote against the motion because they are making good progress in their negotiations with first nations along the proposed pipeline route and think the opposition is overstated, said Todd Nogier, Enbridge Northern Gateway spokesman.

“We have solid support of first nations for the proposal,” Nogier said. “We’ve been consulting with first nations for years. Nogier said that many of the first nations with land or land claims along the route have agreed to a 10-per-cent stake in the pipeline.

A coalition of Northern B.C. first nations called the Yinka Dene Alliance and their supporters have taken a train across Canada to the AGM in Toronto to protest the proposed pipeline.

Ethical Funds holds Enbridge shares in their Ethical Balanced Fund. Enbridge is one of the top 10 holdings in the fund with 148,700 shares worth about $6 million, Bonham said, adding that they’ve owned the shares for more than six years. Bonham said that aside from this project, Enbridge is a good example of an ethical company.

“They’re very progressive … they have significant investment in renewable energy and they’re probably the only energy company in Canada that accepted greenhouse gas reduction targets and met them,” Bonham said. “They’ve had fantastic returns over a number of years, which is an indicator of management quality, but companies can make bad decisions, and I think this is one of them.”

The project will affect more than 80 first nations communities and organizations, the motion states.

“Numerous court rulings have reaffirmed that Aboriginal communities must be consulted and accommodated on developments that potentially impact their title and rights, as guaranteed in the Constitution. Gateway faces vocal opposition from several Aboriginal communities who state the project will be detrimental to these rights,” the motion states.

Bonham said NEI Investments has been talking to Enbridge about this motion since November, but they are not satisfied with the response. However, he said he’s not convinced that first nations’ opposition will permanently kill the planned pipeline.

“If the project could get the free, prior and informed consent of the communities involved, then it could move forward,” Bonham said.

Results of the vote should be known by this afternoon.

tsherlock [at] vancouversun [dot] com