Scathing criticism and deep public mistrust continued to rain down on Canada’s beleaguered National Energy Board this week, with more than 50 environmental and activist groups urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr to shut down all NEB pipeline hearings until its review processes can be overhauled.
In related NEB news, Montreal-area mayors and at least two First Nations demanded the entire panel be replaced in light of ex-Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s private intervention to panel members. The National Observer revealed that a member of the Board’s Energy East review panel had previously paid a fine for insider trading in an unrelated case. And iPolitics published a critique by The Energy Mix curators Chris Wood and Mitchell Beer, calling on the federal government to disband the Board and replace it with an institution that can cope with the complexities and opportunities of today’s energy system.
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In their letter to Trudeau and Carr, the environmental organizations said the NEB’s problems are bigger than the Charest scandal.
“If the government wants to restore public confidence in the (review) process and they want a fair, objective, and evidence-driven analysis, they need to overhaul this thing,” Patrick DeRochie, climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence, told the Canadian Press.
The new federal government has committed to modernizing the NEB and healing Ottawa’s relationship with First Nations. So “it’s inconsistent to say the process is flawed, create interim measures, and then review these pipelines without going through the entire modernization process as they had promised,” DeRochie noted.
“We have to respect the right of refusal” on the part of First Nations, added Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace. “If projects go against their interests and opinions, we cannot impose them. They have suffered enough from the impacts in Alberta and British Columbia.”
“Local communities, First Nations, scientists, and others need to be listened to, but there is no faith in the NEB process, which only continues to send the message that Canada’s energy future remains in incapable, ineffective hands,” said Daniel Cayley-Daoust of the Council of Canadians.
On Wednesday, 82 Montreal-area mayors, the Mohawk Council of Kahnewake, and the Timiskaming First Nation called for the Energy East panelists to be replaced.
“There must be steps taken, as soon as possible, to ensure that the process led by the panel is free from any doubt that could call into question its objectivity or its impartiality,” the Communauté Métropolitain de Montréal said in a September 1 letter now posted on the NEB website. “In this context, we are asking that new panel members be named, before the NEB resumes its work in the review of the Energy East pipeline project. This is the only way to restore public confidence in the review of Energy East pipeline and, in particular, regarding the objectivity and impartiality of the panel.”
Referring to the two panelists who held private meetings with Charest, Kahnewake expressed concern that “Member Gauthier and Member Mercier did not comply with the NEB’s Code of Conduct requirements, and that their conduct gives rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias.” Timiskaming added that the panelists’ actions “have created a dangerous precedent that, if not addressed, will allow panel Members to use their respective influence to secretly address any issue that it sees fit.”
The Energy East panelist at the centre of the insider trading revelation is Jacques Gauthier, one of the two who are being asked to recuse themselves in the Charest affair. Radio-Canada reported Wednesday that Gauthier paid a $9,000 fine for selling his shares in a wind energy company based on privileged information.
The sale, which took place in 2008, was scrutinized by the provincial securities regulator in April 2013, after Gauthier had already joined the NEB. L’Autorité des marchés financiers determined that he dumped his stock after learning that the company, AAER, had lost its bid in a 2005 tender call by the provincial utility, Hydro-Québec.
The Energy Mix’s Wood and Beer, meanwhile, charged that the NEB “is obsolete, an anachronism, a captive service agency for one particularly toxic, last-century industry, rather than a police force for the public interest. Increasingly, it’s also a laughingstock.”
They called on the Trudeau government to abolish the NEB, name a temporary panel drawn from the federal judiciary to oversee its essential functions, and “launch a public, from-the- ground up process to design a replacement agency that is credible, competent and ready for a more complex future.”