Could penpals bring an end to polarizing pipeline polemics?

Wanted: 100 Albertans to be “pipeline penpals.”

The mission: to establish a common-sense peer-to-peer communications conduit with ordinary British Columbians.

The task: to engage in regular conversation about the things that matter in daily life; to move beyond the rhetoric of inflammatory headlines and political punditry to plain-speaking grassroots dialogue.

Starting with pipelines — and building from there.

Here’s the deal: JWN Energy is willing to work with its contacts all over British Columbia to find 100 B.C. residents who are really interested in finding out what’s on the minds of Albertans — and vice versa.

The kick-off topic: exchanging views on the approved Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which is now trapped in a useless crossfire of political posturing. In that more personal exchange, knowledge and perspective will flow, unfettered (ideally) by political allegiance and corporate interests. Once views are exchanged on pipelines, (ideally, again) perhaps the relationship could move on to other topics.

Ideally, the penpal mix will represent the voting population: students and businesses, seniors and the self-employed. It would be great to even get classrooms involved with other classrooms. It’s open to anyone who has a vested interest in doing things better through better talk — and cutting through the clutter of bombast and belligerence. Most emphatically NOT wanted: folks with “agendas” who would use the relationship simply to hector and browbeat some at the other end of the digital pipeline.

Once those conversations start, we would then amplify them through JWN’s various channels to help “those in power” glean more granular insights into what is on the minds of people as they go about the rigours and routines of daily living. To the degree that the trade-war headlines make for interesting theatre, most thinking folks would agree that too much collateral damage occurs as a result — along with a whole bunch of unintended consequences.

But if our two premiers and their respective cabinets had a way to tap into what ordinary folks are thinking, on both sides of the continental divide, their approach to thorny issues like pipeline approvals may shift subtly enough to change the conversational tenor and end the polarizing polemics.

Even in the digital world, penpals are still a thing. Indeed, digital dynamics have enabled ever-more effective bridge-building through peer-to-peer dialogue than in the days of stamp-licking and blue airmail envelopes.

(If you’re interested in being a “penpal,” email me at In the next few weeks, I will supply you with the name and email address of a B.C. resident willing to exchange perspectives. ***Remember, one of the conditions is that you’re willing to have your dialogue reproduced in the public sphere.)

Bill Whitelaw is Managing Director, Strategy & Business Development at geoLOGIC Systems Ltd. & JWN Energy. Bill is a director on many industry sector boards including the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources and the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame. He speaks frequently on the subjects of social licence, innovation and technology, and energy supply networks.

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