News that the Enbridge executive in charge of leading the company's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project is retiring comes just weeks after doubt was raised over a 2018 startup date.

Executive vice-president Janet Holder will retire on Dec. 31, after more than 20 years with Enbridge, having been the lead on the pipeline project since 2011.

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Enbridge executive vice-president Janet Holder will retire at the end of 2014. (CBC)

In a press release, Al Monaco, president and chief executive officer, praised Holder's work building "trust with communities by listening to their concerns and demonstrating Northern Gateway's commitment to building a safe project that protects the environment."

Holder said she is retiring in order to "take a step back and focus on my family and my personal health."

Timeline 'quickly evaporating'

John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines — and the new project lead — said recently the proposed 2018 startup date for the project was "quickly evaporating."

His focus, he told a Calgary business audience, is to build support from First Nations groups along the pipeline's route through British Columbia.

"I'm not as fussed on what that date is, I'm more fussed on can we have the support we need to go ahead, so it's positive for all people of Canada, including aboriginal people.

"That's going to take time and it's going to take the time it takes."

Legal action

The project was dealt another blow on Sept. 26, when the Federal Court of Appeal granted leave to the Gitxaala Nation to apply for a judicial review of the project's approval.

The court application argued that the federal Conservative cabinet did not consider the Gitxaala's aboriginal rights and title in approving the oil pipeline proposed by Calgary-based Enbridge.

In July, it was revealed there are at least nine separate legal challenges being launched against Enbridge by various First Nations, as part of a co-ordinated effort to stop the project.

At the time, Martin Louie, chief councillor of the Nadleh Whut’en, said the majority of British Columbians and many people across Canada support First Nations' fight to block the pipeline.

"We call this beautiful B.C., and that is what we want to keep it as."