OTTAWA – The independent assessment of the proposed Energy East pipeline could be “modestly” delayed by the decision to replace members of the review board, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said Tuesday.
The National Energy Board last week recused all three panellists assigned to conduct public hearings on the 4,500-kilometre project due to an “apprehension of bias.”
Carr said the replacement crew, to be chosen directly by the Liberal government, may end up having more than three members, including bilingual panellists with what Carr described as regional and indigenous perspectives.
“It’ll be up to the National Energy Board to determine how they’re going to proceed from here on in,” Carr said following a cabinet meeting in Ottawa.
“We will give them the members they need to do their job responsibly.”
The review, which began earlier this summer, was supposed to adhere to a 21-month timeline, after which the government will make the ultimate decision on whether the $15.7-billion oil pipeline from Alberta to New Brunswick goes ahead.
Carr said the timeline “could be changed modestly depending on whether or not they determine whether they have to go back to square one.”
Media reports this summer revealed that members of the quasi-judicial energy board, including its chairman, met privately last year with former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was a consultant for TransCanada Corp at the time.
Although the NEB says Charest’s business affiliation was unknown to them, the board announced Friday it was removing the three panellists who had begun deliberations on TransCanada’s Energy East proposal. It also stripped board chairman Peter Watson and vice-chair Lyne Mercier of their responsibilities for assigning a new panel.
That’s put the politically contentious oil pipeline — which is opposed by dozens of Quebec municipal leaders, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador and a broad coalition of environmental advocates — back in the Liberal government’s lap as it faces an autumn of critical environment and energy resource decision-making.
Carr confirmed the government will directly choose the replacement panellists for the Energy East assessment, rather than the usual process of government-appointed NEB members being assigned to panels as board management sees fit.
The recused panellists all had backgrounds in the energy industry, but Carr suggested a broader perspective may be needed.
“I think diversity of life’s experience is always an asset in any body,” he told reporters.
“There are many, many Canadians that are qualified to do this work.”
A spokesman for TransCanada said the company will follow whatever directives the NEB issues.
Tim Duboyce said the company continues to engage municipalities, land owners and indigenous communities while a new panel is selected, at which point “we look forward to the (NEB) sessions resuming and a respectful and constructive dialogue with Canadians about Energy East.”
The board imbroglio further clouds an assessment process the Liberals have promised to overhaul in the longer term, even as it reviews two major oil pipeline proposals in the here and now.
A decision on the proposed tripling of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., is expected from cabinet by mid-December following the completion of a hotly contested NEB review earlier this year.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau skirted a question Tuesday about the commonly held understanding in the national capital that the Liberals would like to approve at least one pipeline to tidewater before the next federal election in 2019.
“The fact is we need to get our resources to market in safe and reliable ways,” Trudeau said at a news conference with visiting International Monetary Fund head Christine Legarde.
“The way that happens is up to the proponents of the projects, up to the regulators and the boards examining them. It’s up to the communities that make decisions. It’s up to a process that, quite rightly, shouldn’t be about politics and should be about what’s right for Canadians, what’s right for our future.”
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