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National Energy Board hearings into Energy East pipeline suspended

The Energy East review panel: Roland George, Lyne Mercier, Jacques Gauthier.

The National Energy Board has halted hearings into the controversial Energy East pipeline. The hearings were suspended while the NEB considers what to do about the scandal of its two review panel commissioners who privately met with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, a paid consultant with TransCanada, the company behind the Energy East pipeline proposal.

The Globe and Mail explains, “Last year, the NEB decided to embark on a strategy of ‘engagement’, notably in Quebec. …The NEB, for unfathomable reasons, didn’t just send out the board’s chair, Peter Watson, or ordinary NEB staff. They sent out two of the three board members lined up to sit on the panel reviewing Energy East, Jacques Gauthier and Lyne Mercier. They contacted notables including Mr. Charest. …And it was Mr. Gauthier who e-mailed, asking to come by Mr. Charest’s office for a cup of coffee and a chat. …When the National Observer website initially reported on the meeting, the NEB told its reporter that Energy East was not discussed. But it was. The NEB later apologized and admitted Energy East was part of the discussion.”

The Globe and Mail’s chief political writer Campbell Clark says, “[This] is a problem for the entire review process. And a political problem for [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau. The Liberal Leader promised he’d make pipeline reviews more credible, to ensure promoters obtain the required ‘social licence’. …The NEB’s missteps have raised questions anew. …Unless the two panelist step aside, the credibility he promised will be in tatters before Energy East hearings even get off the ground in Quebec.”

Yesterday, the NEB hearing in Montreal was disrupted when half the room reportedly started chanting “only communities can grant permission” as a number of activists stood in front of the panellists in question.

Two weeks ago, the National Observer reported, “In a letter sent on [August 13] to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, the groups, including Greenpeace Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique, Nature Québec, and the Council of Canadians, urged the government to intervene over what is becoming known as the Charest affair.” That letter stated, “We ask that the Chairman and the commissioners involved in the meeting be removed from the Energy East panel and as NEB commissioners. Without such action, the overall Energy East evaluation process will remain tainted by serious misconduct and Canadians will not be able to trust its conclusions.”

The natural resources minister’s comments today were unsatisfactory. Carr, who had promised a ‘gold standard’ review process, said, “This is something that the National Energy Board is going to have to deal with. Our interest is in making sure that the process continues and that Canadians who have an opinion have the right and the freedom to say it. …The National Energy Board is doing what it believes it should be doing. Our interest is to hear from Canadians. We promised them a process and that process is unfolding. The sooner it’s back on the rails, the better.”

It’s also worth noting that Environment and Climate Change minister Catherine McKenna commented, “We know, to get resources to market, people have to have trust. That’s going to be really critical, and we’re working really hard on that. …A dramatic decline in commodity prices is a challenge for all of us. We want Alberta to succeed and we’re going to work with [Albertans] to ensure that happens.”

There is no word when the NEB hearings will resume, though they were scheduled to be in Quebec City next (from October 3-7) and then eventually to conclude in Kingston (on December 12-16). It is believed that the hearings could resume at some point after the September 7 deadline set by the NEB to receive public comments on the issue of the recusal of the commissioners. The NEB’s August 23 statement on this, in which they had indicated the Montreal hearings would proceed despite concerns, noted, “The Board will consider those submissions and establish any further steps after that date.”

Beyond the demand for the commissioners to step down, we are calling on the federal government to halt the Energy East hearings until processes are developed to respect the principle of free, prior and informed consent, and a credible climate test is implemented that takes into account Canada’s carbon budget as well as upstream and downstream climate emissions.

To read Council of Canadians commentary on the hearings to date, please see:
Montreal Chapter joins Energy East protest, succeeds in cancelling day’s hearings (August 29 blog by Rachel Small)
5 things I learned at the NEB hearings in New Brunswick (August 26 blog by Robin Tress)
1000 fishermen are thrown overboard by the NEB on Day #1 Energy East hearing (August 12 blog by Mark D’Arcy)
NEB Energy East hearings start in Saint John (August 8 blog by Angela Giles)