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5 things I learned at the NEB hearings in New Brunswick

We hope these five lessons will help make your intervention at the Energy East NEB hearings effective and empowering!

  Chapter activist Dr. Paula Tippet speaks to the NEB panel and Energy East representatives about air quality and health concerns.

Chapter activist Dr. Paula Tippet speaks to the NEB panel and Energy East representatives in Saint John about air quality and health concerns.

1) Tell your story.

Don’t hesitate to tell your story in relation to the Energy East pipeline. Talk about any issue that matters to you (ex: climate, local concerns, etc.). The best part of the Saint John and Fredericton hearings was hearing people from across the province speaking up about their concerns, their communities, and their opposition to Energy East. I never thought an NEB hearing in an overly-air conditioned and dimly-lit room could be inspiring, but it was!

These hearings are for you to say what needs to be said, not for Energy East to control your story or the NEB to force you into a heartless process. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the process or by TransCanada’s lawyers and experts. There is no question about it: you are an expert in your own field and in your own stories and realities.

2) Ask questions, or don’t! This is your time.

These hearings are framed as a time to ask questions, and they can certainly be that, but you are not restricted to a question and answer process. You can make a presentation and/or ask multiple questions. You have 20 minutes and you can take up all those 20 minutes for yourself and not give TransCanada one second if that is what you want to do. Similarly, if you do ask questions and the panel or Energy East takes too much time to answer, feel free to interrupt them.

If you do want to ask questions, try to frame them as simply as possible, and set Energy East or the Panel up for giving yes or no answers. Ask your questions one at a time and wait for a response before asking the next question.

We saw Energy East’s experts and lawyers wasting a lot of time going on tangents. If this happens to you, jump in an re-state your question to get a more direct answer. At the first panel session in Saint John, on intervenor discovered that if she pushed the button on her microphone, it cut off all the other microphones, making it easy for her to pointedly ask her question again.

3) Use value-based arguments.

You can use your time to talk about the future you want to see (and presumably it’s one that doesn’t include this monstrous pipeline). These hearings are part of a values-based debate, they’re not just an exchange of facts. Our values are also a huge part of the story we need to tell.

If you can coordinate with other intervenors in your community to tell a cohesive story about what Energy East means for you, that can be powerful. We saw this happen in Saint John, where many Mi’kmaq and Wolastoq bands spoke from the heart, told similar stories, and used common language to get their point across in a unified way: this land is unceded territory, consultation is required and has not yet been sufficient, communities will not give consent without robust consultation. These common phrases, woven through stories and arguments made by multiple intervenors, made for a powerful demonstration of resistance to reckless pipeline development.

4) Critique the NEB process.

Though the PR spin says otherwise, this process is not perfect, so don’t be shy in saying so! Do ask questions about the process. Do clarify whether a decision by the panel is in line with the its mandate. Do clarify any incorrect assumptions the panel or Energy East makes about your intervention or the issues you’re raising.

If you have a procedural question, or if the Panel makes a decision that you don’t understand or know to be wrong, ask how that decision fits with the panel’s procedural directions. Say something like, “Mr. Chair, I have a procedural question about that decision,” or, “I would like to object to a statement the applicant just made.” Below are a few examples of objectionable decisions we saw in New Brunswick.

In Saint John, Energy East asked for permission to add “supplemental” answers to the transcript for a few questions they were asked. According to the procedural rules of the NEB, the Panel should have asked the intervenor if that was alright, but they didn’t. The Panel let Energy East provide a more PR-friendly answer the next morning without asking the intervenor who prompted the answer in the first place.

Intervenors are allowed to ask for ‘undertakings’. If Energy East does not or cannot answer your question on the spot, and you think you need the answer to that question before the spring (when Energy East is required to answer all questions raised in these hearings), you can ask the Panel to require Energy East to answer your question in writing within a reasonable time after the session ends. One intervenor asked for an undertaking in Saint John, and the Panel put off the decision for another day (which is also a dubious decision).

Separate from the procedural shortcomings of the Panel and Energy East, I noticed that a number of times Energy East’s lawyers or experts would say to intervenors, “Thank you for consulting with us.” It was great to see intervenors respond clearly that they did not consider the consultation sufficient. Eventually, some intervenors were starting their speeches by saying they hadn’t been consulted to an acceptable standard. This was followed by furious note taking by the Panel.

5) Use pictures and images to your advantage.

The hearings are equipped with projectors, and you’re able to bring a slideshow with you if you want to. Using images can add power to your story. We recommend using at least one picture as a background during your presentation, or you can accompany your presentation with many pictures/slides if you feel so inclined. It will add depth to your story, and might also make for some great photos.

You can also take photos and videos. The NEB is not livestreaming video of the hearings as they have in the past for other pipeline hearings, but you are absolutely able to take your own video, audio, and photos.