How Low Can Enbridge Go?

How Low Can Enbridge Go?

Remember that time Enbridge spokesperson Larry Springer, in a ham-fisted attempt to dismiss legitimate questions about Enbridge’s practices, described landowners and other ordinary citizens expressing perfectly reasonable concerns as “special interest groups”? That remark had us so worked up that we devoted a whole series to it (part 2, part 3, part 4). The reason we spent so much time on it– and the reason we return to it every now and then– is because it is so emblematic of the way that Enbridge views landowners, responds to criticism, and communicates with the public. Dishonest,  misleading, and offensive, Springer’s remark also appears to be deeply rooted in Enbridge’s corporate culture, and is part of a strategy (perhaps?) pioneered, but certainly deployed by Enbridge’s former CEO Patrick Daniel.

Well, Larry Springer can finally rest easy. He has at last been outdone. Meet Graham White.

If you’re paying attention to matters up in Canada– Northern Gateway, the Line 9 reversal– you may have encountered Graham White before. He’s one of Enbridge’s chief spokespersons up there (his official title has something to do with business communications and public affairs or something). He gets quoted a lot, much like Jason Manshum here in Michigan. So what is it that Graham White said that surpasses Larry Springer’s now-classically-infamous “special interest groups” comment? Well, let’s take a look:

This week, The Toronto Star ran a fantastic feature called “All Along the Pipeline,” that highlights the Line 9 reversal project and profiles a number of people, as they put it, “whose lives it passes.” It’s a really wonderful piece of journalism by The Star’s Jessica McDiarmid that nicely balances policy and humanity. We wish some reporter in Michigan (about a year ago!) would do the same for Line 6B (yet another opportunity for Jennifer Bowman!). We encourage everyone to read it.

Among those profiled is our friend Emily Ferguson, who maintains the excellent Line 9 Communities blog. The story explains Emily’s first experience with Enbridge:

Then a McMaster University student in geography and environmental studies, Ferguson went to several more. In Halton region, she asked Enbridge for an information package that had been provided to council, which included maps of Line 9’s passage through the area.

Ferguson says a company official asked her who she was working for, then agreed to send a copy — if she showed her driver’s license.

And that’s when Graham White enters the story:

Enbridge offers a different version of events: company spokesperson Graham White says “after an abrupt and confrontational approach from Ms. Ferguson,” an employee asked her who she was but did not request identification.

“We provide our information freely, there is no reason someone would have to show ID,” says White, who characterized Ferguson as “a stringent opponent of the project and an activist.”

There is so much that is wrong and deeply disturbing about this that we hardly know where to begin. But let’s start with the obvious:

Does Graham White really have any idea what Emily Ferguson’s demeanor was at an informational meeting that took place nearly a year ago? Has Graham White ever once met or spoken to Emily Ferguson, anywhere? Was he at that informational meeting to witness her conduct himself? Does he possess such a preternatural memory that he is able to recall every person who comes to every meeting that Enbridge holds all across Canada? Or does Enbridge keep some secret list of “abrupt and confrontational” people that they post somewhere on an internal server, a list that spokespersons are required to memorize so that they can instantly, on command, bring to mind the identities and actions of each and every individual on the list? Or would Graham White somehow have us believe that young Emily Ferguson, college student, was just so extremely abrupt, so extraordinarily confrontational that this incident became a permanent part of Enbridge Line 9 reversal project lore, inscribed indelibly into everyone’s memory, like the moon landing? Or could it be that Graham White is just making things up?

Or, let’s just say for the sake of argument (though we don’t believe it for a second) that Emily was “abrupt and confrontational” that day. What, then, would Graham White’s point be? That those who do not conduct themselves at informational meetings with appropriate deference are asked to identify themselves? Who makes that call and what exactly are the rules of propriety at these meetings? Are they explained before hand? Do you just have to be polite or is some particular form of obsequiousness required? Do you have to genuflect or will a simple curtsy do? Are citizens allowed to make direct eye contact with Enbridge representatives or would that be seen as too confrontational?

If those questions seem absurd, as they should, it’s to point out the absurdity of White’s attempt to mischaracterize Emily’s behavior. There is no good reason for Graham White to describe her as “abrupt and confrontational” other than a desire to cast her, needlessly and gratuitously, in a negative light. That’s clearly what he’s doing. It’s a ploy straight out of the Daniel-Springer playbook: if you can portray your critics in an unflattering way– as “special interest groups” or people who are “abrupt and confrontational”– it’s much easier to dismiss them. White does it again when he describes Emily as a “stringent opponent of the project and an activist.” What is the point of that characterization? Why does Graham White go out of his way to describe Emily in this way? Indeed, why does Graham White feel the need to characterize Emily at all? Again, the answer to that is simple: he thinks that calling her an “activist” is automatically to discredit her– in precisely the same way that Larry Springer thinks that calling people “special interest groups” automatically discredits them. It’s a cheap trick, shabby and lazy.

But if what we have here is just another specimen of what we’ve seen from other Enbridge reps, why dwell on Graham White’s snide comments? What makes White’s remarks so much worse than Larry Springer’s? Well, when Springer made his remarks, he was referring (to the extent that he was referring to anyone real, as opposed to the phantoms conjured by his own corporation’s distorted imagination) to a group of people. Springer might even say he was referring generally to everyone who has ever been critical of Enbridge in Michigan since 2010; heaven knows plenty of people have been, some of them even genuine “special interest groups.” So at least Springer has an out– not a very good one, but an out nevertheless. 

Graham White, on the other hand? He is talking specifically about one single individual, one ordinary Canadian citizen. And while we are personally mighty impressed with young Emily Ferguson, who seems to us quite formidable, exceedingly smart, talented, enterprising, and with a very bright future ahead of her, it’s not as if she is, say, Neil Young.

By contrast, when Graham White speaks, he is speaking as and for one of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful corporations in Canada, in all of North America, in fact. Yet despite all of its wealth and power and influence, it is also, evidently, a corporation that is so petty, so thin-skinned, so defensive, so stung by even the mildest of criticisms, so unwilling to take responsibility for even the slightest of missteps, so utterly lacking in grace and humility, so stubborn, so ungenerous, and so mean-spirited that it is willing, on the basis of almost nothing, to publicly disparage a single individual for nothing more than saying what happened when she attended a meeting?

That, friends, is just plain crazy.

[Okay. Believe it or not, we’ve got even more to say about this. But since it’s already gotten a bit longer than we planned, we’ll save it for a follow-up post. Congratulations, Graham White! You’ve earned your very own series!]

On Enbridge’s “open and honest dealings,” Part 4

On Enbridge’s “open and honest dealings,” Part 4

We thought we were done with our series on Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer’s outrageous statement a couple of weeks back. You remember: Springer insisted that Enbridge’s actions show that they deal openly and honestly with stakeholders, despite what those pesky “special interest groups” and their compatriots in the media who just want to stir up controversy would have you believe.

We took exception with that statement (again and again). We think we made our point quite clearly (and factually). We were prepared to give it a rest for a while.

But then examples of not-so-open and not-so-honest dealings by Enbridge just keep coming. Here’s a recent one:   (more…)

On Enbridge’s “open and honest dealings,” Part 3

Our interrogation of Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer’s astonishing statement to journalist David Hasemyer last week keeps getting interrupted: first by the recent Brandon Township “workshop” with Enbridge and then today by some good news from the Oakland County Circuit Court. If you missed the first two parts of our discussion of Hasemyer’s excellent article and Springer’s statement, you can read them here (and here). This morning, we return to that series.

First, let’s revisit what Springer actually said about people like us (and perhaps you), ordinary citizens who have reasonable and perfectly understandable concerns about the Line 6B project:

“While there has been recent publicity and activity by special interest groups, most who live and work along the pipeline are not opposed to Enbridge’s plans to replace Line 6B,” he said. “While the media may choose to focus on controversial situations, Enbridge’s actions show that we deal openly and honestly with all stakeholders, including landowners and local governments.”

I have to confess: part of me still can’t believe he said this. But he did. Today, we will explore the last part of his statement. And we’ll do it simply. We’ll just gather together some actual examples of actual Enbridge actions and see whether those actions do, in fact, show that Enbridge “deal[s] openly and honestly with all stakeholders.”   (more…)

On Enbridge’s “open and honest dealings,” Part 2

On Enbridge’s “open and honest dealings,” Part 2

The Straw Man Tactic

We’ve grown accustomed to hollow phrases, evasions, and clever mystifications from Enbridge spokesmen. But, as we have already noted, what Larry Springer offers up in his statement to David Hasemyer is a series of untruths. Once again, here is Springer:

“While there has been recent publicity and activity by special interest groups, most who live and work along the pipeline are not opposed to Enbridge’s plans to replace Line 6B,” he said. “While the media may choose to focus on controversial situations, Enbridge’s actions show that we deal openly and honestly with all stakeholders, including landowners and local governments.”

Let me first put this in some context.   (more…)

On Enbridge’s “open and honest dealings”

On Enbridge’s “open and honest dealings”

There are plenty of things in David Hasemyer’s excellent article this morning in Inside Climate News that have got our motor running. So much that we’ll likely be writing about it for some time. But of everything Hasemyer reports, what turned our low simmer to a rolling boil are the remarks of Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer. In fact, they are so egregious, it’s going to take us more than one post to deal with just one statement. Here we’ll provide a summary of our objections, which we’ll follow-up with a number of posts that elaborate on each point.

So here is the statement:

“While there has been recent publicity and activity by special interest groups, most who live and work along the pipeline are not opposed to Enbridge’s plans to replace Line 6B,” he said. “While the media may choose to focus on controversial situations, Enbridge’s actions show that we deal openly and honestly with all stakeholders, including landowners and local governments.”

Let us count the ways Larry Springer is demonstrably wrong:   (more…)