Distracted by the great national nightmare of carbon pricing soon to descend over us, most Canadians probably aren’t paying much attention to more technocratic machinery-of-government energy issues.
But by the end of the day on Wednesday, the feds will stop taking input on the “terms of reference” for modernization of the National Energy Board as well as reviews of environmental assessments, the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act.
It’s not exactly the sexiest news item you will come across today. But it’s pretty important that the machinery of government aims to achieve the right goals.
If we don’t change direction, we’ll end up where we’re headed.
It’s the age old difference between theory and practice. In principle, Canada has joined with the rest of the world and sworn to end the use of fossil fuels within the next few decades. As a developed nation, we have committed to move ahead faster than developing countries.
But in practice, agencies like the National Energy Board and processes like environmental assessments just keep on keeping on. They don’t incorporate the climate goals of government into analysis or decision-making. They are not mandated to manage the fossil phase out, or even to provide clarity on whether they are designing a world that is 1.5 degrees hotter, 2 degrees hotter or much, much worse.
Without a very serious overhaul, we’ll keep on with a National Energy Board bristling with the powers of a federal court, fully in the tank for the oil and gas industry it is meant to regulate, operating secretively and unsafely.
It’s not entirely clear the feds are looking for a serious overhaul. According to the proposed terms of reference, the “modernization” is slated to occur “pursuant to the NEB Act.” Yes, that same act torqued by Stephen Harper’s odious omnibus bills. If we’re going to get serious about modern energy planning, we certainly cannot have the review panel just tweaking things within the bounds of the existing act.
The terms of reference do not address the need for an authentic “climate test” incorporating the global scenarios in which projects do or do not make sense. A world in which we allow two degrees of global warming? Four degrees? Let’s at least be clear.
And what about the new relationship with First Nations? The terms of reference do not include the government’s commitment to “free, prior and informed consent” for First Nations.
The National Energy Board and environmental assessment process are profoundly broken. The public doesn’t trust them, and for good reason. They lack integrity and are not aligned with the goals of government.
Fundamentally, they are planning for climate failure.
The feds deserve praise for launching the reviews, promising to modernize the regulator and restore integrity to energy and environmental planning. Let’s make sure we plan for success and not restrict their terms of reference.