The Trudeau government has sent conflicting signals by allowing the National Energy Board to restart its hearings into TransCanada Corporation’s Energy East pipeline proposal under rules that a special panel is concurrently reviewing, a lawyer for Ecojustice and his client argue in an op-ed published in the subscription-only Hill Times, and on the environmental non-profit’s website.
The Board’s first attempt to consider the Calgary company’s $16-billion proposal collapsed in a shambles when the three panellists assigned to the review were forced to recuse themselves after revelations of improper ex-parte meetings with a pipeline lobbyist. In December, the government named several new bilingual members to the board and assigned them to renew the Energy East review.
Last month, Ecojustice lawyer Charles Hatt, representing Transition Initiative Kenora, filed a suit to invalidate all the procedural rulings the previous panel had made. The board conceded at the end of the month, agreeing in a statement that, “given the recusals and the applicable case law, all decisions made by the previous panel must be, and are hereby, voided and stricken from the record.”
But Hatt and Transition Initiative Kenora Executive Director Teika Newton want more. “In relationships, trust is king,” they argue in their op-ed. “The overtly pro-fossil fuel policies of the Harper government weakened and politicized the National Energy Board. Predictably, Canadians’ trust in the board cratered.” In November, the government appointed a special panel to examine the NEB’s workings and recommend reforms, in an effort to restore that trust.
The panel is to report on its findings at the end of next month. “Yet within hours of the board’s decision” to reboot its Energy East review, “Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr’s office said the government will allow the restarted Energy East review to continue under Harper’s laws,” they note. “Under these laws, the hearing is less likely to be fair and more likely to produce a faulty factual record on which to make a final decision.”
Hatt and Newton call the restart decision a missed “golden opportunity” to demonstrate to Canadians that the NEB’s review and environmental assessment “is conducted under improved laws, rather than the Harper-era legislation that remains in place.”
Somewhat bitterly, they suggest that “the Trudeau government has managed to restore trust” on the subject of pipeline approvals. “After a brief period of hope after the election, Canadians can once again trust that when given a choice between open, fair, science-based hearings and a process designed to facilitate oil sands expansion, their federal government will choose the latter.”