Environmental Specialist with Manitoba Hydro and President, IAP2 Prairies Chapter
How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I have been in P2 for just over 6 years. I graduated from the University of Manitoba in 2009 with full intentions of working in a lab and studying environmental toxicology – public participation was nowhere on my radar! Instead, I began working with MMM Group Ltd as an environmental planner focusing on socio-economic impact analysis. I began working on a large scale transmission line project where I was asked to assist the engagement team and was introduced to IAP2. From there, I realized I wanted to direct my career into the P2 field.
I now work with Manitoba Hydro as an Environmental Specialist and develop and execute engagement processes for major transmission, natural gas and electrical stations across the Province. This position has allowed me to learn from our past projects and other utilities to improve Manitoba Hydro’s engagement processes.
There are lots of areas for contention in this industry. We often work with private landowners – and as you can imagine, being told that a transmission line could go across your property can be upsetting. So we talk about how to minimize impacts and discuss mitigation measures. You’ll see changes and modifications to a project that are reflective of their feedback and how their feedback has changed the outcome. They may not always like the outcome, but we try to make sure that they understand the process and that their feedback is considered in Manitoba Hydro’s decision-making.
Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?
I was at a Landowner Information Center in a small town in rural Manitoba. I saw a very vocal landowner who I had numerous discussions with prior come into the venue with a younger man who I had never met looking quite angry. I took them over to a corner and began talking with them. The young man, with his arms crossed, looked at me and said “This process is a waste of time. You don’t care about what I have to say. You don’t care what anybody has to say.”
At first, I was taken aback but my response was almost out of instinct. “Then why are you here? You drove an hour and a half to tell me that talking to me is a waste of time? I have others that really want to sit and talk about this project. I do not believe that you believe what you just told me”.
He sat there quietly and I was expecting a backlash. He looked at me and then smiled. “Straight to the point. I like that, let’s talk.” We now talk regularly and have developed a good relationship. Throughout our many subsequent discussions, concerns from him and his growing family were considered and the project modified. He recently gave me travel advice when he called just to check in.
That interaction taught me that everyone is different. Although my reaction was not the most apt, if I hadn’t said it, I may not have developed that relationship. Some people don’t want pleasantries or empathy; some just want a frank conversation or even just the facts. It’s about developing that relationship to understand them and to gain trust in your process and trust in you. Each member of the public is different and that is why I like to develop processes that cater to different people, their comfort level, and their interest in our projects.
What “big wins” have you had?
I would have to say that the relationships I have built with different stakeholders and members of the public have been my big wins. Without these relationships my processes could easily fall apart. I am constantly learning from them as to where improvements can be made and what was successful to incorporate into future planning and techniques to continue to improve our processes.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business … Get involved! When I first started in P2 I realized that I had never really participated in any project or even attended an open house. Learn and network. Follow up with university contacts, your professors, guest speakers, attend networking events, and even just join a mailing list for a project! Getting to know others, their work and seeing the impact P2 can have in projects will really drive you to further your career in the field.