CALGARY - Opponents of Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway proposal say even if the federal cabinet approves controversial oil pipeline in the coming weeks, the project will languish while they tie it up in the courts.
As in previous years, a delegation of First Nations leaders, environmental activists and B.C. community representatives travelled to Calgary on Wednesday to speak out against the more than $6.5-billion project at Enbridge's annual general meeting.
John Ridsdale, hereditary chief of the Wet'suwet'en Nation in northern B.C., says his community will never support the Alberta-to-B.C. oil pipeline project and investor money will "sit there and rot."
"The answer is still no. So let's move on," he told The Canadian Press ahead of the meeting.
"Why would you want to invest into a failed project? There are better projects they can invest in. It's costing them money to find out it's an absolute failure."
Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, said he decided to attend Enbridge's meeting for the first time to deliver a similar message to CEO Al Monaco.
"When you're sitting in a board meeting, having an annual meeting, trying to decide where your future investments are going, you'd better think about that because it's not going to happen. You're wasting money," he said.
A joint review panel said in December the project that will bring oil from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. should be approved, subject to 209 conditions, and the federal cabinet is set to decide in a matter of weeks.
But Monaco told shareholders that he knows there's still a lot more work to be done.
"Regardless of the final government decision here, whatever decision they do make, our focus is going to be on re-engaging and further building trust with some of the aboriginal groups that we haven't been able to do this point, to listen, further build trust and address concerns," he said, adding he's met with many community leaders along the pipeline route.
"As CEO, I've made this commitment to them, and I repeat it here today: that we'll continue to work hard to earn the trust of British Columbians and that will make Northern Gateway the best project possible with environment and safety as the first priority."
A litany of legal challenges being mounted by project opponents mean the path forward for Northern Gateway is far from clear.
First Nations in most of British Columbia have not signed treaties with the Crown, meaning they maintain right and title.
There are a number of court cases in which B.C. First Nations have been successful in the past, Ridsdale said.
"We've had the longest winning streak in Canadian jurisprudence, in the history of Canada. And yet here we go again," he said.
"They still haven't listened to us. We've constantly said the answer is still no and we give the reasoning behind it. So we go to court."
Jim Prentice, a former federal Tory cabinet minister who is preparing to run for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership, was hired by the Northern Gateway proponents in March to engage with First Nations along the route.
Sterritt said his first meeting with Prentice and his staff didn't go well.
"He brought some people along that thought that they could flash a bunch of economic development opportunities under our nose and somehow we would roll over on Northern Gateway," he said.
Later, Sterritt said was able to deliver a tough message to Prentice one-on-one.
"I let him know in no uncertain terms, the longest, the furthest path to the Pacific is Northern Gateway. There is so much poison involved in that project, you just can't rescue it. So unless this industry in Alberta gets rid of the idea of Northern Gateway, they're not going to see the Pacific. It's that simple," he said.
Sterritt added he'd be happy to see someone with a deep understanding of First Nations issues — it was one of Prentice's cabinet posts in Ottawa — become the premier of Alberta.
"He understands the pathway to the Pacific is a hard road."
Earlier Wednesday, Enbridge said it earned $390 million in its latest quarter, up from $250 million a year ago.
The pipeline company says the profit amounted to 47 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended March 31 compared with a profit of 31 cents per diluted share a year ago.
Revenue totalled $10.52 billion, up from $7.9 billion in the first three months of 2013.
Excluding one-time items, including unrealized derivative fair value gains and losses, Enbridge said it earned an adjusted profit of $492 million or 60 cents per share.
That compared with an adjusted profit of $488 million or 62 cents per share a year ago when the company had fewer shares outstanding.
Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 57 cents per share, according to data compiled by Thomson Reuters.
Monaco said the company is on track to be within the company's full-year adjusted earnings per share guidance range of $1.84 to $2.04 per share.
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