06/24/2013 03:05 EDT | Updated 08/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Northern Gateway president agrees trust must be built

As Enbridge makes its final presentation to the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel in Terrace Monday, a former executive says the company has failed to move public opinion — and the president seems to agree.

Roger Harris, a former Enbridge vice president, says even if the federal panel approves the project, a lot more public relations work has to happen before the twin pipeline from Edmonton to the B.C. Coast is actually built.

- Learn more about the Northern Gateway Pipeline

"The misconception here is that having a legal permit to build something does not necessarily translate into the actual ability to construct a pipeline," he told CBC News.

For that ability, Harris says Enbridge would need a social licence — something he says it lacks at the moment.

Harris says Enbridge has lost credibility with the public over its promise to build an environmentally-benign oil transport network. In his opinion, the company mishandled the hearing process.

- B.C. officially opposes Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline

"What's happened for Enbridge over the course of recent history is they've lost the credibility, so that even if they were doing things in all the right ways, people either one don't believe them, or two, they don't care anymore," he said.

"And Enbridge, they may have five years between [when] a permit is issued and when they'd like to start building to get everybody onside, but if the general public falls into those two categories, you can have 20 years and you're not going to change people's minds," Harris said.

Harris says the company should have started reaching out to the public earlier.

'We need to be accountable': president

John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines, spoke with CBC Radio One's The Early Edition Monday morning, and agreed the company has work to do with the public, but says the joint review hearing process has been effective.

"I think the process has been effective in terms of, people were able to put their views in front of the board," he said. "It's a very complex project, it raises a lot of legitimate issues that need to be addressed."

One of the major issues that has been asked of the board by various parties is how Northern Gateway can prevent oil spills and leaks, and how the company would respond to a spill, which seems as though it would be an inevitability.

In 2010, cracks in a pipeline that Enbridge built led to a leak of more than three million litres of oil into a river near Marshall, Mich. And just this week, an Enbridge pipeline in northern Alberta spilled 750,000 barrels of light synthetic crude.

- Read more: Synthetic oil leak shuts down Enbridge pipeline in northern Alta.

- Enbridge failed to fix cracks in leaking Michigan pipeline

"That's the key question that people want answered: Can the project be built and operated safely? Part of it [the answer] is going back to our record," Carruthers said.

"We need to be accountable to our record ... We addressed that in the hearing. The big one was our response in Marshall, Michigan and we went into that in-depth during the hearing about what happened an what we did then and what we'd do differently going forwards."

He said some of the improved measures being planned for Northern Gateway include careful route selection, thicker steels, increases numbers of valves, more numerous leak detection systems, and better technology for in-line inspection.

"It's a key question for British Columbians," he said. "It's a beautiful place here, they're rightly concerned.

"We need to build their trust."