Janet Holder never expected to the face of the Northern Gateway project, but as the pipeline company makes its latest public relations push the Prince George-based executive is front and centre.
Holder has been the senior executive at parent company Enbridge in charge of the northern Alberta to Kitimat pipeline for two years, but has taken on an expanded role this week as the face of print, radio and television advertising.
It wasn't an automatic decision for Holder to get in front of the camera and extol the virtues of the $6.5 billion project - "It's not my style to be out front of something like this," Holder said - but she is counting on her belief in the project, her integrity and her understanding of northern B.C. will convince people of the merits of shipping diluted bitumen from Alberta to an export facility on the north coast.
"At the end of the day I believe in the project so much and the team believes in it so much that we really do believe that we can make this something that British Columbians and Canadians will be proud of," Holder said.
Raised in Prince George before embarking on a career as an energy executive, Holder said she understands the northern economy and why people are drawn to the region. She moved back to Prince George to work out of Northern Gateway's headquarters in the city and has spent countless hours travelling along the proposed right of way meeting with people both in favour and opposed to the pipeline.
Critics of the project have pointed to the risk to northern B.C.'s environment if there was ever a spill. They have held protests, written letters to the National Energy Board and made presentations in front of the Joint Review Panel examining Northern Gateway's environmental assessment.
Holder said she believes some of those opposed to the project are against all oilsands development, but she also values the input of those with safety concerns. She pointed to Northern Gateway's decision to re-route the pipeline many times as more information became available and to add safety enhancements.
"Because of environmentalists we have better vehicles and lower emissions and smaller cars; because of environmentalists we have better heating equipment in our homes and better equipment in our industry," she said. "I think it's important we engage, because when there's engagement there's improvement."
Some of the most successful engagement, according to Holder, comes in unlikely places like the supermarket checkout line. She believes speaking to people individually allows her and other Northern Gateway employees to talk about the nuances of the project.
"It's hard to put an ad in the newspaper or a radio ad and actually convey the heart and spirit we're putting into this and the complexities," she said. "I think when people engage in those one-on-one conversations people understand the effort that's we've undergone to ensure we're doing the right thing."
It's the advertisements that allow Northern Gateway to reach a large audience. Print and radio ads began appearing this week and a new set of television ads filmed in Prince George and featuring Holder will begin to roll out next month.
The company is awaiting a recommendation from the Joint Review Panel later this year and the federal government will make a decision on whether to grant the pipeline a certificate sometime in early 2014.
In the meantime Holder will be the multimedia face of the pipeline as it seeks public support to proceed.
"It's probably not something I would ever [have] dreamt I would be doing when I graduated high school here," she said. "But I'm here."