François Poirier is a man who knows about going the distance – both as a marathon and triathlon finisher, and as a professional who spent more than two decades advising clients on making large and complex energy infrastructure projects happen. Poirier joined TransCanada in May, taking over from retiring Steve Pohlod as new President of the Energy East Pipeline Project.
As a former investment banker at JPMorgan and Wells Fargo Securities, Poirier worked extensively for the pipeline, power and gas industries, and brings a wealth of experience on the benefits and challenges tied to large energy projects.
Here is, below, his vision for the Energy East Pipeline and how he feels TransCanada can earn public trust for this $12-billion project that will deliver jobs, energy security and tax revenue for all levels of government.
What made you choose to work for TransCanada?
There are essentially two things that attracted me to this particular role. First, it is the culture and values that TransCanada as a whole embodies: integrity, safety and environmental responsibility. These are principles that strongly resonate with me. When you combine this with the opportunity to lead one of the most important infrastructure projects ever proposed – a 4,500 km pipeline that links Alberta to New Brunswick – it was just an opportunity that was very difficult to pass up.
What are the biggest strengths that you bring to this project?
I have a strong understanding of the fundamentals of the pipeline industry, as well as the rationale that underpins a project like Energy East, the value it creates in terms of benefits, and the critical need for us to be environmentally responsible. Another core value I bring to this project is the ability to listen and the conviction I have that we need to build a close relationship with the public. The team, including me, will spend a lot of time on the ground, on planes and with suitcases. We will be at as local a level as possible to talk about the project, listen to concerns and answer questions on important issues, such as safety and economic benefits for the communities who live alongside the pipeline’s pathway.
TransCanada has been in the business of building and operating pipelines safely for 60 years. We have an excellent relationship with the communities along our existing pipelines. They trust us. This is the kind of relationship that we need to establish all along the Energy East route, from Hardisty to Saint John.
Tell us about your first impressions of TransCanada.
I have lots of first impressions and they are all good. For example, I truly believe that when TransCanada talks about the value of “safety comes first”, even before commercial success, it is absolutely true. This value is embodied in the way everyone, at every level of the organization, operates. It drives their behaviours.
I am also very impressed with the level of talent we have at TransCanada. We learn from the best practices of other projects in other parts of the organization, and this provides a wealth of experience and knowledge we can tap into to ensure Energy East meets the highest technology and safety standards.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role as President of the Energy East project?
The thing that excites me the most is the idea that at the end of what’s going to be an engagement process of 18 months to two years, the facts and merits of this project will prevail. It’s our job to make sure they do. But you can’t just look at the destination. You have to look at the journey too. What I look forward to in this journey is all the different people we will meet along the way and all the different people we will exchange with at the local, provincial and federal levels. It’s very rewarding to talk to people face to face and go into the details of what we truly believe is a great project. It is critical that we listen to their concerns and factor those in as we move forward with Energy East.
What are the most important factors the Energy East team needs to focus on to ensure the project goes ahead?
We need to inform the public about our project so people understand that pipelines are the safest, lowest-cost, and most environmentally-friendly way to transport oil. There are numerous benefits that Energy East will bring in terms of local jobs, tax revenue and spinoff effects for many communities along the pipeline’s route. Our great challenge is to articulate those benefits and tell people in North Bay, *Cacouna, Hampton, Winnipeg or Moosomin what’s in it for them.
Something we have learned from the more than 80 open houses we have had to date is that once we have a fact-based discussion with people, most understand that the economy of today requires us to use all forms of energy that are available to us – including oil. They appreciate that a prosperous Canadian energy industry helps fund social programs, hospitals and education, and they do see the merits of our project and how we are proposing to proceed. It is very important that people are able to make a reasonable assessment of risks and rewards based on facts. We’re confident that if we are able to present the facts, support for the project will be strong.
What is your initial impression of the public support for the Energy East Project?
Support has been quite strong. I was at an open house we organized in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Que., in April. More than 250 people attended the event. Our open houses are not a soapbox kind of forum. There are different information booths that people can visit to ask questions of experts on the Energy East team. We are not trying to sell the project. We want to answer questions genuinely, and I believe this is what people want. They want to feel they can make an informed decision based on facts.
We are going to hold more open houses this fall across the six provinces Energy East will go through. I encourage people to attend these events. They are a great opportunity for people in local communities to ask questions and for us to answer those questions and capture feedback that is factored into our project.