The choice of title sponsor for the Ride to Conquer Cancer has sparked controversy in communities across the province. Enbridge was nominated the title sponsor of the national event in 2011, sparking some potential participants to withdraw their support for the event.
In B.C., the fourth annual ride, to be held on June 16 and 17 is a two-day event from Vancouver into Washington State, raising money for the BC Cancer Foundation. Last year more than 2,800 participants raised nearly $11.1 million for cancer research.
Enbridge is behind the Northern Gateway project, a proposed 1,172 km-long oil pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat, B.C. Approximately 525,000 barrels of crude oil would be transported per day, which would be shipped by super tankers to the U.S. and China.
Its sponsorship of the Ride to Conquer Cancer is enough for one local cyclist to withdraw from the race, citing it is not "ethical" for her to participate. Squamish resident Nicole McRae said that cancer runs in her family and that she was considering participating in the event with her mother, but once it was announced that Enbridge was the title sponsor, she backed out.
"And now I've decided against it," she said. "It's just not going to be possible. It's not something I could do ethically while it's in their name. When Enbridge causes a ridiculous amount of cancer, it's so hypocritical."
McRae was born and raised in Kitimat, so this issue hits home as the proposed pipeline would run through her former community; she said she can't imagine what damage a spill would do, whether from the pipeline or an oil tanker. She will continue to show her support for other community fundraising events, which aid in raising money for important causes such as cancer research, but is angry about Enbridge's involvement with the Ride to Conquer Cancer.
"What crushes me about it, especially the people who do this ride for their wife, for their mother, father ... it's such an emotional draw. Cancer is an emotional draw and then to tie Enbridge to it in this positive light seems so manipulative and unethical."
Mike McCarney agreed.
The Squamish resident and owner of Fusion Cycling, a coaching company, said he donated money to his brother-in-law who completed the ride last year. He was not happy to discover that Enbridge sponsored it.
"I am totally opposed to the pipeline and I think it's a sneaky way promoting itself to look like being a good company where in many ways they are doing a bad thing," he said.
McCarney said he would decline to participate in the ride on those grounds.
Doug Nelson, president and CEO of BC Cancer Foundation said they are taking these concerns seriously.
"We respect people's opinions and recognize their right to make that decision," he said, adding that the organization has received comments from across the province.
Enbridge became the title sponsor of the Alberta ride in 2010 and became the national sponsor for all the rides in Canada in 2011, signing a three-year special sponsorship agreement which runs through to 2013.
That sponsorship is up for review after next year's rides and Nelson said they will take into consideration the feedback.
"We have been taking notes on anybody who had a concern about the sponsorship and when we're back at the table with our colleagues across the country, we'll certainly be bringing all of that forward," he said.
He said he understands the concern.
"The most unfortunate thing about all of this is what the ride is really about is raising money for cancer research, and while I certainly understand it's an important issue for some, it really isn't the point of the ride and it's unfortunate that the issues have come together," said Nelson.