The company that wants to build the Energy East pipeline is rolling out a new marketing campaign that features videos by New Brunswick politicians — a campaign that worries project opponents.
TransCanada Corp. is recording video endorsements of the project with elected officials ranging from Premier Brian Gallant to local mayors.
“They’re chosen because they’ve already expressed support for the project,” says TransCanada spokesperson Tim Duboyce.
“So then we say, `Can we get you to express that support on another platform?’”
One video features Richard Keeley, the mayor of Grand Falls.
In the video posted Oct. 30, Keeley introduces himself as the mayor and delivers a 47-second statement, filmed on the town’s Broadway Boulevard.
“We feel the Energy East project will allow us to protect our qualify of life, and will give our children the opportunity to live the same experiences that we have,” he says in the French-language video.
“Do like me. Do your part. Support Energy East.”
Keeley’s day job is as the Department of Environment's regional director in the Grand Falls area, running its regional office.
In January, Keeley was on the scene in Wapske, near Plaster Rock, when departmental officials took soil samples to check for contamination after the derailment of a CN train carrying tanker cars of oil.
Keeley refused an interview with CBC News about the video endorsement and how his public support for Energy East might affect his job.
Green Party Leader David Coon says Keeley’s role running a regional office would give him no decision-making role over policy or regulations applying to the pipeline, so it’s unlikely the endorsement puts him in a conflict of interest.
But Coon said the video campaign overall could “shake the confidence” of New Brunswickers who find themselves negotiating with TransCanada about land use.
“I’m concerned about the atmosphere of cheerleading and boosterism that’s going on by elected officials, which creates an atmosphere that will make it much more difficult for landowners to deal with the company,” Coon says.
“New Brunswickers need to know that their government is on their side in dealing with the company, that they’ve got their backs.”
Premier Brian Gallant recorded his video, in the form of an interview, during his recent visit to a TransCanada operations centre in Alberta.
The provincial Department of Environment did not respond to CBC’s request for a comment on Keeley’s role in the video campaign.
Grand Falls council endorsed pipeline project
Grand Falls council has unanimously endorsed the project, which would see Alberta crude travel by pipeline across the country to the Irving Oil Ltd. refinery in Saint John.
The project would use existing pipelines for most of that distance, but in New Brunswick TransCanada would build a new line. The planned route runs through the Grand Falls area.
TransCanada approached Keeley to record the video and he agreed after getting the unanimous approval of town councillors.
“We are in communications with [municipal leaders] because we’re trying to share information with them,” says Duboyce.
“As a result of that, we tend to learn along the way who is favourable to the project.”
Duboyce wouldn’t discuss Keeley’s environment department role.
“I can’t speak for him and the hats that he wears. I will say this, however: it’s not surprising to see him or anybody else support this project from an ecological and environmental point of view.” he said.
Duboyce said the pipeline presents less environmental risk than moving oil other ways and consumes less energy.
“I believe his comments were made as the mayor of Grand Falls and I would not want to put any words in his mouth or put him in a difficult position,” he said.
Duboyce said the videos are not scripted by TransCanada: officials are simply asked “to repeat comments they’ve already made publicly.” They are not paid to participate.
The videos are posted to the company’s website and promoted through social media.
Besides Grand Falls, the village councils of Plaster Rock, Minto, and Chipman have also passed resolutions endorsing Energy East.